Friday, October 14, 2011

Learning to See (Part 2)

My memories of growing up are always accompanied by the heat of a Sydney summer; stifling and submissive, covered with suburban blue sky tainted with a tincture of dust and an odour of freshly mowed grass and rubbish bins left in the street too long. My view of this world of cobbled streets and clattering carts was framed by a small, lace curtained, sash window above my bed. What entered through this rectangular aperture each day was a passing parade of life as I new it. Friends, family and neighbours came and went through the squeaky gate, my sisters played hopscotch and chattered with boys along the verge, Snowy barked at the postman, Bob the Bookie made his regular visits to Dot and Wally's place across the road, providing them with the latest odds for Rose Hill races.  The camphor laurel tree shed it's leaves without ever becoming bare. The light through the rusty fly screen woke me in the morning and the street lights kept me awake at night. The sounds and sights of my childhood emanated from this orifice like a mysterious story told by The Oracle. Passing my days at that window was endless and effortless.
What are you looking at? my Old Man would ask.
Nothing really.
Are you going out to play?
No. I'll just sit here and ........ watch.
My Old Man would leave me to my watching.

I watched from my grandstand pretty much through my childhood and into my teens. Nothing changed, or so it seemed. Then an internal amendment was made to my homeland security. Mayhem reigned in our household. A baby arrived. I was fully aware, by the age of fifteen, how that happens and where they come from. Nevertheless, I was somewhat shocked and concerned that my parents still had it in them to do such a thing. After all, they were my parents. Even now I find the whole thing a bit distasteful.

Understanding that space was at a premium at Number 17 New York Street, a complete reshuffle of personal space was inevitable.
My old man placed his gnarled hand on my shoulder and looked me squarely in the eyes with that steel gray look that said volumes. His was the Rule of Law.
The baby will need the spot by the window.
I gave in reluctantly. After all, the Big Brother must do what he can to accommodate the cute and cuddly new sister. I think my life also depended on it.

Me, my bed and my meagre belongings were relegated to the back room while L'il Sister's bassinet was wheeled into place, fitting perfectly below the well worn sill. A cool breeze ruffled the curtains as if to greet her to my world. She would be happy here, I thought. I kind of liked the idea that I could share my vision with someone.
Each day I would sit with her and explain to her what she might see if she could reach. As she grew and begun pulling herself to the window we would share our excitement as the new day passed us by. Her view seemed limited somewhat to only those things she could realise with her immediate attention. When the old man from Number 9 passed by, she had no concept of his existence beforehand or afterward. It was as though he only existed in the time it took to pass her view. When it rained the drops came from nowhere. When Dad came home at the end of his day he would call to her and she would look puzzlingly before bubbling with excitement at his magical appearance.

I would share with her my experiences as a child as well. My first sight of a car. The flowering of the frangipani. The day they tarred the road. Oh, how I remember the smell and the noise. She giggled at my expression. The night of the fire. I let her feel the fear and comforted her as if she had been there. I was back there again and she was with me, with the frame of our window shielding us.

Eventually she began to tell her own stories in her own bumbling way. I would stare out the window with her as she described the days events and be there in among the passing crowd. I began to see what she saw. She delighted in the understanding of object permanence. The window was now our common perception and we revelled in it.
What are you two looking at? my Old Man would ask.
Nothing much.
Are you teaching her to see?
I guess I am.
After a long silence (my Old Man was filled with long silences) he would peer over my shoulder and stare through our window; the three of us like crows on a fence. How strange that must have seemed to passers-by.

How's the photography going?
My Old Man always had the ability to add to a conversation, a question that left a void for me to fill. It was like reading a book with the last chapter missing and I would have to write it myself.
Many years later, when my father was no longer around to ask me pointed questions, I came across a photographer by the name of Jane Bown. She said she photographed so that others could see what she saw. I think she must have known my Old Man. At least she must have looked through the same window.
I still share that view through my window with my L'il Sister. I hope she sees what I see.


  1. What a great post, with wonderful images. Lovely.

  2. What a beautiful piece of narrative, and the telling is honest and welcoming, like speaking with a friend: it is the moment shared. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. Wonderful stuff. It takes me back to my childhood. This will really be a fantastic incorporation into my photography...see what I see...

  5. These stories you tell just get better and better...