Thursday, December 27, 2007


I have a great many pictures of the dead. But I don't have many pictures of my own dead. I mean the people I knew who died when they and I were young. Who died of drugs and Aids and suicide and misadventure. For the most part my friends and I didn't have cameras. We couldn't afford cameras, most of us. I don't have many pictures of myself from between when my parents stopped considering me cute and worth preserving--maybe age 14 or so--and around age 35. And I have very few pictures of my friends from those years.

If I could travel back into my life that is one thing I would do: obtain a simple black-and-white camera and line up everyone I knew one by one against a wall and take their picture. Then I could remember what those people looked like who I won't see again. Because even though they live on in my memory I frequently find myself unable to keep their faces from changing. Changing the way faces in dreams do. Slipping. It even happens with the living that I can't pin down what they looked like twenty or thirty years ago. I have to look at them really hard to extract the youth that is within them but overgrown with worry and time and roads not taken.

But strangely I can look at these faces from maybe 1910 and discover that I know them. I can imagine the course of their lives. I can see how Georges will look at 30, what GĂ©rardine will be like as a mother, how Suzanne will walk in regal middle age, what Pierre will drink every night in his 60s, poor Jules on his deathbed. The face at any given moment carries the entire life including the roads not taken and the infinity of what-ifs. But all of that is easier to see in strangers and especially strangers who are already long dead. The taboo against looking into the future is lifted in their case. The camera can assume its function as a necromancer's tool.