Friday, August 13, 2010

I'll be your mirror

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.


Anonymous said...

I can't help being reminded of Anne Bell, the vet's daughter, who died in a car accident on her way home to East Linton at Christmas...late 1980s?...her car full of gifts. I have never seen a photo of her, but - and, like you, it seems mawkish to say it - if I did I would look for something in her expression that indicated she knew what was going to happen to her. And, I suppose, I'd be afraid that I wouldn't find anything, which would make me just the same as her. Is that a terrible thing to say?


LottieP said...

I was reminded of Anne Bell too - there are a few parallels between them.

At Edinburgh University Registry, down in the basement, I found a macabre list, started years ago in a lined notebook and written by hand, with the date and cause of death of anyone who had died while they were a student there. Anne Bell was there; so was the woman who was pushed off Salisbury Crags by her husband in the 1960s (accompanied by helpful news clippings). Three people who died in a yachting accident in the 1950s. Others I can't remember. And, while I was there, a new addition: a student who died climbing in the Torridon Hills.

LottieP said...

David says: "I've often thought this as well -- she made a split second decision to overtake a car on the A9 and hit a lorry... what if the car had not been there, she'd been distracted, hadn't been so impulsive.. so many what ifs.
She was a friend of [his sister]'s and they shared a flat for a while but I knew her pretty well. She had just got her first job as a teacher at a girls school in Edinburgh. She was travelling home to Wick to visit her parents with her new car... I wrote the song [My Edinburgh Picture]as if directed to her boyfriend who was a big secret at the time (which everyone knew). (I've changed his name in the song.) and I wrote it many years after her death because I was living in a flat which was near Woodburn Terrace where she had her own flat and I started thinking about her..."

Mancsoulsister said...

It's a beautiful picture and quite haunting with hindsight. There is a depth in her expression (particularly her eyes) and you can't help but wonder if this was a shadow of what was to come.

I find it quite disturbing looking at photos of people who die young. There is nearly always this expression in their eyes that I find hard to digest. I don't know if it is me projecting because I know that they will not live long or if it is some kind of shadow of the future. Either way I find it difficult to look at.

Deborah said...

At the risk of seeming a bit odd, I'd say this was a pleasure to read. I liked the fact that you wrote about a person you didn't know, but whose photo and circumstances seemed to compel you to write. It was quite lovely, really, despite its sadness. Found you through Jamie.

LottieP said...

Thank you, Deborah, and nice to see you here.