Conversations about Pictures

When my father was at school and varsity he used to develop and print black and white pictures in the bathroom at the old house. The prints were smaller than a postcard and were contact prints. He placed the negative over the paper and exposed it to light. No enlarger.

At home these prints were stored in the study in an old shoe box, along with other photographs of holidays and events. There was also an old brown suitcase with chrome locks that housed the 8mm films of family and sporting events. He never made the transition to a video camera but embraced digital photography. The thing about digital photography is that he bought a new memory stick whenever the camera had no more file space, and never downloaded them on a computer. He always had jumbo prints made of his pictures with digital cameras.

A few years ago he digitised the 8mm films. The athletics meetings we participated in were a harsh reminder of fit and fast young days. The family parties were a reminder of simpler functions. There was food and drink on the table, and afterwards they would often get up and dance, no hifi or disco, just a small tape recorder making the noise. The community affairs and Greek National Days were funny, with important looking Greeks posing for the camera and children reciting poems they did not understand. Wearing clothes they were embarrassed to have on: the foustanella (white pleated skirt) and white stockings.

At home in South Africa, in the lounge and dining room, are only wedding pictures of my father, his parents and his children.  The face of his only son-in-law does not shine in those rooms. At home in the village, in the simpler dining room cum lounge, there are all the family weddings, including his siblings and their children. There is also a table of frames filled with family pictures and achievements, birthday milestones and graduation pictures. In South Africa my mother’s fridge smiled with happy pictures of grandchildren, godchildren and pets.

In fairness, the house in South Africa was my father’s. The house in Greece was my grandfather’s.  So, in fairness, my father has honoured the genealogy of the house in Kakouri.

Whenever I am in the village I always spend some time being quiet and looking at the pictures. People preserved in their finest, at their finest hour. Smiles that hide the anticipation of a journey to an unknown world in Africa. Smiles that hide the next 47 years of marriage and end with fracturing of a relationship with a daughter. Smiles that hide the knowledge of a career not chosen. Smiles that hide children, and no children.

Still they smiled.

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