Bonfire Of The Vanities


My old man isn't self-portrait photography's number one fan. To say he's got beef with having his photo taken is an understatement. I don't know if this is out of vanity, or because even in these twilight years he still needs to max out on security because of the coke racket he's eyeballs deep in. He took me aside once when i was four and with a look on his face i'll never forget said, remember this hijo mio, it's not getting in that's the hard part, it's getting out. I thought he was talking about the front door, which was confusing. Now it all becomes clear.


I shot the below straight from the hip as i pointed to the right and screamed WHAT THE HELL IS THAT at the top of my voice. He never saw it coming.






Anyway, i was hanging out with him the other day in his study at home, and told him i wanted a photo of him to take back to my flat and put in a frame.


He turned, and looked at me in the manner of someone placed on the face of this earth for the sole purpose of answering a question they have waited their entire life to be asked. His lips trembled. He was holding it together though. Of course. Came the reply in his thinly-accented south american baritone. And reaching down to the second draw of the desk he pulled it open and fished something out, his voice cracking imperceptibly. Take it.





Really? I replied. I can't take this one i protested, it's such a great photo, i don't want to take your only copy. He shook his head gravely and insisted, No, I want you to have it. 


It was a big moment. It genuinely felt like some sort of symbolic changing of the guard, my pop giving me a photo of himself - that rare beast - and one he was evidently proud of, with reason, i mean he looks great. Who doesn't cherish that kind of photo of themselves. One that evokes not so much the person you are, but the person you'd most love to be seen as. It was a little faded and clearly old, with a lovely quality to it. 


And yet it felt like i was taking something away from him, and it saddened me. I couldn't help imagining it as something he would keep close to him always, in the second drawer down, as a testament to his youth, a memento, to clutch onto as the dark clouds of old age drift across the horizon. It's not like he knows what the hell a scanner is.


But he insisted. 



And as i descended the stairs it was remarkable to me how touched i was. 






Despite it only being a photo it felt like much more. I vowed to find a frame worthy of its symbolic meaning, so whenever my father came to visit, it would be there, in pride of place, shining out like a beacon for all to see.



On the way out i saw my mother, and opened my bag to show her. Look what papa just gave me.



A strange pained recognition traced its was across her face. 



Oh God. She said. 



And she sighed, and i watched her eyes roll alarmingly far back inside her skull. That photo. About thirty years ago your father, for the only time in his life, set foot inside a photo-shop, and had 45 copies of that photo made. Forty five. Your father has had a thirty year love affair with the man in that bloody photo. Our marriage has suffered because of it. That bloody profile. That wistful look. That yellow coat, it comes to me in nightmares. He hands them out like sweets. He's trying to get rid of them. There are drawers full of them. In their droves.






No comments:

Post a comment