Catherine’s Chairs

Image courtesy of Catherine Banks

Image courtesy of Catherine Banks

Photography is a tool for dealing with things everybody knows about but isn’t attending to. My photographs are intended to represent something you don’t see.” Emmet Gowin cited in ‘On Photography’ by Sontag p 200

The chairs aren’t Catherine’s, they belong to a chap in his eighties that Catherine knows; he was widowed four or five years ago and other than the couple were childless, I have no other information of this chap. Yet the image, even with this scant knowledge to situate him, or the room, this home depicted – for which I have only ever seen this image – starts to build an image which is more than the two dimensional four sided photograph that I saw recently, is something I find interesting.

I haven’t experienced a loss of a loved one, in that all the people I have loved are still with me. My father died a decade or so ago, but I never felt loss there, maybe a sense of relief, but no loss of sleep. So how the image that Catherine presented spoke so lucidly of loss to me with those few anchoring words is something I find intriguing.

Twin book piles. Image courtesy of Catherine Banks

Twin book piles. Image courtesy of Catherine Banks

Two chairs, co-joined by an occasional table which is itself weighted down by two piles of books and a ‘silver lady’ statuette. The image is split in half offering a place for two people, a chair, a set of reading each and a wing each from the angel.

Behind one chair is the window to a tended and nurtured garden, net curtaining providing a screen but also a connection to an other world beyond. Behind the other chair is the hallway, a door to the exterior world and four coat pegs; three pegs having men’s hats, the fourth, nearest to the sitting room, has a scarlet scarf and a jacket.

Image courtesy of Catherine Banks

Image courtesy of Catherine Banks

The chairs have been well used, relics perhaps from when the house was first occupied, these comfortable armchairs have had replacement covers that now have their own signs of wear and evidence of use, with stains at the end of the arms where people grasp to get up and down from them. These coverings are now starting to rumple but they both have hearty cushions, though not in the same colour; the one, a healthy pink/cerise and the other a pale/ghostly white.

The television is turned off, but on the screen we see a reflection of a staircase that provides access to another space upstairs, when the time is right.

Reflection. Image courtesy of Catherine Banks

Reflection. Image courtesy of Catherine Banks

A rug lies on the floor in front of the chair with the cerise coloured cushion; it avoids the other armchair as if in a gesture of politeness the chair with white cushion has offered it to the other. One chair seems still to be sat upon, the other looks as though it has been vacant for some time.

It is a quiet image, a reflective device that is depicted in soft warm melancholic tones.

Nowadays he doesn’t think of his wife, though he knows he can turn around and evoke every move of her, describe any aspect of her, the weigh of her wrist on his heart during the night” Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

It is in the image that I detect that sense of loss, a powerful narrative sense that emanates from this single image. That Catherine had other images that she was working to form into a cohesive set for an assignment was something that I was aware of; but I found that this image drove a narrative that chimed with that sense that I had detected – probably from how Catherine had spoken about this chap who had been widowed. A sense of loss of a loved one, irreplaceable, gone but still with a sense of presence, holding on.

Looking at this image, from a set I created for assignment three – a narrative – I felt a similar sense of loss when I first worked the image, being projected from the absence of a person – a physical absence, rather than a metaphorical one – rather than loss as in an emotional ‘presence’ described beautifully in “Catherine’s Chairs”. These three people, collected in a row with a space between them, as if there was once a fourth but now no longer – seems now a much more prosaic image. Too deliberate. Too elemental.

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2 thoughts on “Catherine’s Chairs

  1. Thanks for this post… Catherine’s photo is beautiful and your reading really interesting.
    The picture about the sea refer to me more about death than loss. strangely, I do not relate to the 3 people in the see, but to the photographer, alone, not physically represented, facing the infinite, and in his confrontation with his inevitable fate, always alone.

  2. You are very kind Stephanie, many thanks! No image of the sea that I consider these days comes without a sense of Sugimoto, and he describes the sense of the infinite in his seascapes – I am sure you are aware of them; just as I was when I took that picture. It is curious and wonderful how images are understood and comprehended, I will think about your comment some more. Thanks!

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