Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sunday Essay - a simple story from an old photo

In some earlier posts (Sunday Essay - the importance of visual images, The rise of visual wall paper?, Belshaw's World - picture a place where the message mattered) I explored the rise of the visual. I suggested in part that the value of individual images had declined as images themselves became more common.

Looking at eldest daughter's Facebook page, I see that she has no less than 1,328 photos. Bloody hell - that's a lot of photos!  They are of value to Helen now because she remembers them and they are also part of the constant interaction among her group.

But. moving forward, how many will she actually remember? How many will in fact have dropped back to the class of visual wallpaper, a visual background to a life.

To my mind, photos retain value because they can be set in a context. This may be personal, memories of our personal past. More broadly, they may say something about a historical period. In both cases, the value lies in the story told.Armiadle High 1961October

To illustrate this, I want to take a photo sent to me by Bruce Hoy as part of an ever-growing and nostalgic email chain linked to a shared Armidale past.

Looking at it, its just a photo. Quite interesting, but not much more. Well, what extra can we say about it, what is its story?

The photo was taken in October 1961. It shows part of the Armidale High Leaving Certificate class of that year on the last formal day of school looking at the Mozeley's old Packard, John Mozeley at the wheel. 

At school? Two people have bare feet!

In it's own way, this is a sign of social change that I have written about before (here, here). I grew up with bare feet. I still like going without shoes. You try doing this today: it's considered both unsafe and socially unacceptable!

You can see from the photo that it's hot. October 1961 was hot and dry, something that continued into November. Those doing the Leaving certificate went onto stuvac pending the exams.

I was at TAS (The Armidale School), not High. I studied in part at home, in part at school. The aim was to find a comfortable spot that was also cool. I remember studying on the balcony of the TAS Assembly Hall looking out over Front Field. This, the Field, was partly shady with the rest shimmering in the heat haze.

We all needed breaks. At home in the backyard we had a very old fashioned clothes lines, essentially a big square with wire between the poles. Once the clothes had been pegged, the lines were pushed higher by old poles with forks on the end.

Some of my TAS boarder friends used to break bounds (rules were relaxed for us) to come home. We would use poles to push the clothes line up, then form teams and play a ball game - the aim was to hit the ball over the line without dropping it. A kind of volley ball. By the end of stuvac, the ground on both sides of the clothes line was quite bare.

Now look at the car with John Mozeley at the wheel.

Armidale Tennis Club

The next photo from cousin Jamie's collection shows the Armidale Tennis Courts in 1950. The squash courts that, I think, the Mozeley's built and were on the right are not yet there. 

Tennis was very big, the Mozeleys ran tennis coaching.

The courts at the front were those ones that I and many others went for tennis coaching.

Cars were big, older cars more so. We all went for our licenses as soon as we could without worries as to hours. In my case, I did the test in Uralla. The police sergeant said I suppose you know the rules? Yes, I said. Good was the reply. At the end of the test he said that he would give me the license, but I needed more practice parking and on hill climbs.

A different world. A license meant freedom, the capacity to go. Some of us (all of us?) did some silly things. Some of us died as a consequence. Yet the memories of freedom remain. 

Now revisit the photo. See how it tells a story?    

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