It's a colour photograph of a young woman, in her early twenties. Her name is Anne. She has a bright, intelligent face and long brown hair, parted fractionally to the right and slightly messily gathered in a bunch at the back of her neck. She is wearing a chunky black poloneck and what appears to be a graduation gown with a white collar. It might just have been a slightly fancy late 1970s/early 1980s dress with an embroidered neckline, but I can see someone in the background wearing something similar and both of them are holding red rolls, the cardboard tubes containing degree certificates. There are people in the background: over her right shoulder, a blurred group of four, including the other girl in her graduation gown, are looking her way, with smiles on their faces. Something caught their eye; maybe the person who's taking the photo was saying something loud or funny to Anne which is why she's half smiling, slightly ruefully, slightly knowingly. She has a peculiar look on her face which suggests things unsaid to the person behind the camera. Over her left shoulder, there are three men in brown suits, also blurred, with their backs to us. Anne's right hand is in motion because she's putting what looks like a light blue blanket, but is probably a good winter coat, over her left arm. Her pale left hand appears under the coat, holding the red roll: a strong, thin hand. In the far background, grey sandstone tenements; I think the street is cobbled. It's unmistakeably Edinburgh. Anne is unmistakeably Scottish.
I know some things about Anne: she died when she was young, probably not long after the photo was taken, in a car crash on the A9, on her way home. She was from Wick. From this and the evidence in the photo, I deduce that the photo was taken at her graduation from Edinburgh University, somewhere near St Giles' Church in the High Street, at the latest in the very early 1980s.
A friend posted Anne's picture on Facebook and I've been returning to it without knowing why. I find it poignant that he's tagged her in the photograph, but there will never be anything for her name to link to in that prosaic, often uninvited Facebook way: pictures of her life, friends, marriage, children, laughing in the sunshine in the garden, raising a wine glass in an ironic toast, emerging grinning from the sea after a swim. It seems mawkish yet irresistible to conclude, from the expression on her face, that she somehow knew what was going to happen to her at that moment and transmitted the yearning for her lost life into the lens. This might be the only picture of her on the internet. And she's looking out of her short life and telling me to be happy.
Photograph courtesy of David Heavenor.