Posts Tagged ‘death’

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A brief exploration of my protagonist’s past, and his discovery of the perfectionism of a photograph and its ability to distort memories.

The camera never lies… or does it? 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The old photograph of my Mother is something I seldom look upon. When I do, I still doubt the sound exposure and fear the sun may snatch it away. I was barely fourteen when I took it, with some assistance, after pleading with the studio photographer who had just opened up his shop underneath our home. I borrowed his camera, and used one plate, and paid him a penny. A pittance for him, I knew, but it was all the money I had in the world.
The camera was new, but even so the exposure took four minutes. The little moustached photographer squinted at the sun through the window, and timed with his pocket watch. I remember him nod to me surely. My heart beat wildly as I twisted off the stiff metal lens cover. I could hardly believe that this funny little box could capture an image.
Waiting breathlessly, I still expected her to rise, to jump back to life. Even in death, with the grey pallor of her face and unnaturally posed limbs, she looked as always. Her hands lay twisted in her lap, as though plotting to grasp at my hair and beat me like a misbehaving school boy. Her severe grey dress, made from thick heavy wool and clasped at the throat, made her a dark and formidable form. She had always been an imposing woman, well-built and standing at nearly six feet tall. Brief sickness had not withered her.
I knew that never again would I be subject to her spontaneous and humiliating blows that stung for hours after the pain left my body. Yet even in death she looked undefeated, ruling her domain from the throne of her rocking chair.
Father wasn’t home. I knew he would be down the road, drinking at the tavern. I knew he was there mourning – in his own way. My father respected my Mother, though he never loved her. She never allowed herself to love him back. For all that, he had been a consistent and adequate provider, if rather stoic and distant – and with a penchant for gin. In some way, I felt some deep-seated pity for my Mother, in spite of her coldness.
I looked upon that grim tableau of death, and it seemed that something had changed in her. It unsettled me deeply, and I wondered if this was the case for all death. I didn’t have the nerve to ask the photographer as he packed away his things. I only realized what had changed after the plate was exposed, and lay in my trembling hands. The dim and ghostly likeness of my Mother, a week and a day after her funeral, had been brought back to life.
It was a look of peace, and of resignation. All the knots of motherhood and hard work and spite had softened. It was hard to imagine her limp arms being raised in anger. Her eyes, which stared past the confines of the blurry edges of the frame, seemed to look beyond our world. At times my eyes could trick me into seeing warmth in them. She almost looks like a Mother.
I slipped the photograph back into the deepest recess of my case.

No biggie. Just exploring the themes of my film. Several things have occurred to me:

  • Post-mortem photographs were important to those left living

but

  • A life lived is more important.

Which leads me to my question: What is the point in memorializing a life that has not been lived?

Behind the scenes

(source: The Skull Illusion)
Not sure of the facts behind this picture. Rigor mortis seems to have set in on the subject. An interesting find.

As sure a sign of my procrastination as anything, I ventured down to Korumburra last weekend for a location recce for a script that hasn’t been written yet. My excuse is inspiration, but it was not all a waste.

Coal Creek Heritage Village is located on the outskirts of the small town of Korumburra, incidentally near where my Dad grew up. I sadly discovered that the village itself is next to a reasonably busy highway. I’m not sure how much of a problem this noise could cause. The facilities are surprisingly well maintained, given that it is mostly staffed by volunteers. The front end of the park is quite polished and touristy. It gets a bit wild and wooly down the back around the tramway line, but I found these parts to be much more authentic looking.

The most unavoidable problem with the village is probably the era. Most of the buildings and objects were a little modern, many sitting around an early 20th century period. I’m not sure how such anachronisms would affect a film, or how noticeable it would be. I unfortunately do not have the historical knowledge to be a good judge of that.

In addition to the tramway in the park itself, there is a local tourist railway that operates between some of the local towns. I’m not yet sure if this would be an appropriate facility to use, as I couldn’t find much information about it.

Overall, the district itself from first impressions isn’t what I have envisioned. The land seems far too heavily farmed, an I’d like something that looks like it could be sitting on the edge of society. Whilst the village is great, I would probably need to expand to other areas. I’m sure there is probably some beautiful locations in the area. I want something wild about the land, almost a sort of Western style sort of landscape of colonialism and wilderness and the unknown.

A quick piece I cobbled together from various snippets I have written over the last few days. This is not so much a story but a brief look into the world of the people I want to write my script about. I am not too sure on the technical aspects of the photography, such as the mechanics and exposure, but the sentiment is there. There is a story behind every photograph…

The old man’s eyes looked off into nowhere in particular. He sat slumped, his fragile spine crumpled under his dead weight. He’d been dead not twelve hours, but the sickness had already drained most of the colour from his face. His shoulders still seemed tense, even in death. The only part of him that seemed at peace were his eyes. He had resigned to his fate, he had reconciled with all his demons.

I turned to see the waiting family. A casket was open, and ready to receive him. This was the last of the formalities. I tilted my head, imagining the photograph. “Shift his head about, he looks like he is all twisted up”. Wordlessly, his wife obliged. His head was turned, and he gazed over to his family in a sort of dignified silence. His wife sat down next to him, supporting his drooping body.

His hands lay in an open bible. If one had only briefly glanced in his direction, one might hve thought he was reading, deep in thought, only to be disturbed by some sound or movement. One could imagine him reaching up to adjust his spectacles, or perhaps scratch his wiry beard. But of course he did not move. His wife placed her warm, wrinkled hand over his cold and work weathered hand for the last time.

Satisfied, I pulled the slide out of the wooden holder and placed it the camera. It slid home with a satisfying click as the metal clips snapped around it. I nodded wordlessly at the old man’s wife. She gave a tiny smile. “Stay completely still, this is the most important thing”. Feeling she had understood, a reached around the camera body, and quickly removed the lens cap. In the sunny sitting room, four minutes ought to be plenty of time for exposure. I checked my watch. The wife sat with absolute stillness, as though it was the most important thing that she had ever done.

(source: photo.net)

Occasionally her eyes would flick to her dead husband, but mostly she stared straight down the lens of the camera. I could see how in life these two would have sat around the fire, or held each other close in the evenings.They seemed to fit so comfortably into one another, despite one having moved into the next world. I imagined them laughing together, their wedding day… This was their final moment, and the memory that would last for many years to come.

I placed the lens cap back over, sealing the image away from the destructive light. I would process it momentarily. The wife’s lip quivered as her daughter tried to pull her hand away from her husbands. Two strapping young lads lifted the frail old man’s body easily, and he was laid into the casket as though sleeping. The bible was tucked into his hands. I saw the wife bend over to kiss her husband goodbye. Her hand trailed across his forehead, tucking away loose hairs.

I tucked the slide holding the precious plate into its case. I would return in the morning with the last picture of this husband and wife, the only picture of this husband and wife. I tipped my hat and paid my final respects, before turning and leaving for my studio.

I’ve been hoping to start collecting interesting photographs  (particularly post mortem ones), and that all began today when I picked up a few curious bits and pieces for not very much. I hope to share some of my more interesting pieces.

I have found what I think is a post mortem photograph (for $7, a bargain!). I’ve been studying them quite closely, so I have developed something of an eye for spotting them. In this, there was something about the eyes…

Probable post mortem photograph of a little boy. There is something not quite right about his eyes and positioning in the chair.

The photograph didn’t scan so well, so I have brought up the contrast with Photoshop. It was found tucked away in a box of old photographs at the Chapel St Bazaar in Prahran.

I dearly would love to know more about this photograph, but there is no information on the back. I can only hazard a guess that it looks like very early 20th century (but I could be wrong, if someone could shed some light, I’d be grateful!). The chair seems reasonably modern.  From first glance, the boy seems to be quite healthy. I wonder what it was that led him to his untimely death. It seems that the family have decorated the sitting area with tree fronds. The oriental fan at the bottom right hand corner is curious too. Perhaps it was a souvenir?

The more I look at the photograph, the more haunting it seems. This little boy’s image made it all the way through history, his likeness preserved and finally digitized. Such a wonder is photography.