Snapshot (noun): An informal photograph taken quickly, typically with a small handheld camera
Have you seen this photo of James and me? I’ve come to think of it as the ‘defining’ photo. We have it framed at home, alongside one of me holding Summer. It’s the photo we used for our fundraising for Unicef, when Summer passed away. It’s the image everyone would have seen, accompanied by the information that this scene no longer existed.
When you look at this photo, what do you see? If someone picked it up in 100 years time, what would they see? (Hopefully a mixed race couple is no longer something of note!). I’m going to pick it apart and try to intersperse the visual elements with the emotional, because this photo is full of memory. It conveys so much more than you might have initially appreciated.
Firstly, have you noticed its location? Can you tell that it was taken in a hospital? There are many hints. Spot the location clues: there’s the assistance handrail, the industrial sized bin and green liner behind James and most obviously, the medical label on my wrist. The location also hints at something more: longevity. There are toiletries on the windowsill, indicating that this was not a fleeting visit. There are both male and female toiletries, indicating that it wasn’t just me in it for the long haul. Upon closer inspection, there are the Dove products which uni friends know are my favourite, juxtaposed with the horrible ‘desperate times’ purchase of green shower gel that James grabbed from somewhere local to the hospital. There’s also a little pot of bio oil, which my friend R had given me for use on my growing bump. That latter item indicates hope, suggestive of an ongoing pregnancy.
The intimacy of the positioning of James’ hidden hand, alongside his wearing a ring on the other, shows that we’re married. We look young(ish) and there are no other people, so perhaps this is our first child. We’re both smiling, so despite being in hospital, these must be happy times, right? Wrong. We sent this photo to our mums. Both said they loved it, but it made them both cry.
In reality, this photo was taken because we were spending the weekend saying goodbye to Summer. My friend A gave me the idea. She suggested that we take some family photos. I am so grateful for that suggestion, I never would have thought to have done it. Although I was nearly 5 months pregnant, I had so few bump pictures and none of me with James. This was the first photo of the ‘three’ of us; our first family bumpie. At 19 weeks gestation, the bump is not yet too heavy for me to carry without assistance, but it’s why I’m lovingly holding, yet deliberately accentuating the shape of my bump.
It explains why I’m not wearing a hospital gown. The whole time we were in hospital – except this particular day – I wore a gown. James thought that if I looked too well or got dressed in my own clothes each day, it might suggest that I wanted to go home. We didn’t want to go home, we wanted and needed to be looked after, I couldn’t cope on my own anymore. But on this day (Saturday 7th March 2020), I got dressed up in my new maternity dress. It’s also why my hair has been straightened (straight hair was my norm before Summer. I frequently straightened it twice in a day – especially if I’d been to the gym. Since Summer, I’ve straightened my hair about 3 times in 4 months) – because we were taking our family photo.
The weekend before, James had taken me shopping. It was our last day out with Summer, our last carefree family meal. All week I’d been off-work on bed rest and I was feeling weak and miserable. So James drove me into Marylebone for a special treat, something I’d never had; a maternity shopping spree. I had coveted the clothes in Seraphine for so long and I was finally getting big enough to need some new clothes. It was a lovely sunny day, I was in and out of the dressing room, with James taking videos and pictures. I felt like I was in one of those chick-flick movie montages, where the best friend shakes their head no and nods their head yes, except that everything looked lovely with a bump. I bought four new dresses and a pair of maternity trousers. A few days later, we were in hospital, the dream completely over. I knew that I would never get to wear my new clothes and that they would become tainted with the loss to come, so I asked James to go home and grab one of the new dresses. So here it is, in this photo, worn once and now gathering dust under my bed.
Finally, I think the photo is special because there are additional hidden meanings. If you really look at us, I don’t think our eyes are smiling. They tell you that this is a bittersweet moment. Note also that we’ve decided to take the photo in a mirror, rather than asking someone else for assistance, which indicates that this was a private, yet special time. I like that the use of a mirror makes everything back-to-front and the wrong way round, sort of like the situation: why are you smiling when you’re losing a baby? With hindsight, my pink nails and the pink camera phone in James’ hand, hint at the future: a baby girl yet to be born.
As the proverb goes “a picture is worth a thousand words”: the definition stating that complex and sometimes multiple ideas can be shown in a single still image, which conveys its meaning or essence more effectively than a mere verbal description.
Incidentally, this blog is exactly one thousand words, from title to finish.