My auntie and I have a little informal book club of two; generally the pair of us share a passion for literature, poetry and art.
Her life has now spanned almost ninety years, so she was a witness to stories I’ve only read about. The day that the Nazis invaded Poland, she was a child of ten having her tonsils out in a little hospital in southern Alberta. She recalls the nurse who tended to her was Polish; as you can well imagine she was very distressed by the events of the day.
My aunt is a researcher, writer and historian in her own right, compassionate and perceptive, and I treasure the time I spend with her.
She recently lent this book to me. The Color of Time takes one hundred and ten years of black and white photographs, all of which tell vivid, arresting stories on their own, and provides an accompanying paragraph of written context. The twist is that the black and white illustrations have been painstakingly retouched into colour, with minute attention paid to historic detail.
We began to muse about what photographs would be included in the next collection, one that spanned from 1960 – 2070. What would be part of it so far? Both of us nominated the graphic footage of the car accident that killed Princess Diana in 1997 and the heart stopping images of those airplanes detonating into the World Trade Centres in 2001.
I thought this was interesting, because when I look at my Instagram feed, trauma is not the colour of time, typically. I do share the big news of the day sometimes (such as the record flooding that happened in my city in 2013) and recall meaningful moments on their anniversaries, for example, my recent blog posts on Vimy Ridge or the one hundred year anniversary of the 1919 blizzard. However, that’s not usually, or even often, the colour of my time.
As someone who lives in a peaceful first world country, my time is coloured by my garden through the changing seasons, playful moments shared with friends, good meals I’ve eaten, films I’ve been inspired by, stacks of books waiting for me to cuddle up and read them and reoccurring rituals that I look forward to such as football games, annual Jane’s Walks or fireworks festivals.
If I were to colour my time truthfully, there would be a record of dark days. I lost a little friend when I was eight years old. I don’t have a photograph of that day, but my life transformed into black and white for a long time; I was in mourning. I can see how that impacted my girlhood. I isolated myself, uncertain about new friendships, as though to love again was betraying the beloved person who would never grow up.
Another heartbreaking and confusing experience. A person chose to alter my life in a permanent and destructive way. I don’t have photographs taken that day either, but the images would have been bleeding and distorted around the edges. It was as though I was put under a magic spell, sentenced not to death, but to life as a corrupted version of the vibrant, shining being I was meant to be. I can see now how this has shaped me in possible every way.
I don’t have a photographic record of moments like these — or others that have shaped my life that I’m not going to record here. I am sharing a few examples because I know that you can relate to them. You have had your own days of tragedy and trauma, too.
What about times when I have harmed others? I have rarely done this intentionally, but I know that I have my own record of words said that were cruel and unfair, things I neglected that wounded, and choices I made that impacted not only myself but had a ripple effect on other lives, not for good.
Isn’t it interesting how when asked to collect images on a macro level, we reach for the tragedies? The events that impact us all tend to be well documented. For private individuals, no matter how powerful the event, the record is often engraved only upon our own hearts.
How would you colour your own time? What are the images and events that have shaped who you are so far? Are you able to find a balance between times of trauma and sorrow and daily experiences of joy? Please let me know in the comments below … and enjoy this little gallery I created of the colour of my own time over the last month. I don’t know if a historian one hundred years from now would select these images as the ones that are representative of my life in April/May 2019 but for now, I’m the curator.