Monday, March 2, 2015

Some old pictures I didn't take: A boy and his dog

Jimmy Barnes, Hamilton, 1940s

WE WERE A KODAK FAMILY. Mount Dennis, the neighbourhood where I grew up, was built around Kodak's Canadian plant, and my mother, cousin and sister all worked there for a cumulative eight decades. So it's no surprise that among the things passed down to me are envelopes full of snapshots, slides and film negatives.

The boy holding the struggling dog is my cousin Jimmy Barnes, probably shot in the backyard of their family home in Hamilton, where my aunt Cecilia Murphy went to live when she married John Barnes. My mother probably took this shot, on a visit to her sister sometime in the '40s. I never knew Jimmy - he joined the navy and spent two decades at sea before buying a bar in Halifax. He might still be alive today, but I haven't heard about him since I was a boy.

I have always loved snapshots, with their foursquare composition, artless lighting and occasionally awkward poses and expressions. Some people like to describe them as capturing moments of the past, but given the effort required to find the camera, choose a backdrop and corral friends and family into the frame, they're more like the a moment in time forced awkwardly to slow its onward rush for a brief, stumbling pause.

The boy has a name but the dog doesn't, as he struggles to elude the camera's gulping shutter. There might be, at this moment, less than half a dozen people alive for whom the boy's name and the houses glimpsed behind him might evoke a real, lived memory. I am not one of them; I am merely the caretaker of this image, for now.

I've been going through these old photos for the last few months, scanning the negatives and asking my brother and sister if they can remember names or places, since almost all of these photos were taken long before I was born. After all of this work, I've decided to share them as the first blog post of every month, if only to justify the painstaking labour required to clean them up, spot the dust, repair the scratches and squeeze as much detail as I can from images taken on whatever Brownie or Instamatic my mother or cousin had bought with their employee discount.

Jimmy, Gloria and Joanne Barnes, Hamilton, 1940s

Here's another shot taken on the same day - Jimmy and his struggling dog with his sisters Gloria and Joanne. I knew them as my cousins but they were, in fact, my uncle and aunts, though I wouldn't learn this until nearly twenty years ago - a not-uncommon circumstance in Catholic families, where an unplanned baby might have been inconvenient but not unwanted. But more about that another time.

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