Creating and keeping memories
I’ve been going through photographs recently. It began as a task to find one for the cover of the 2022 Schnauzerfest Calendar. Having Susie-Belle there has become a tradition. Each year when I’m asked for a photo, a discomfiting sense lurks. Is it time to make way for another? Should another dog, not my beloved Susie-Belle be on the cover? It’s not my calendar after all. We get hundreds of beautiful photographs submitted for the calendar and behind each lies a proud owner who cares enough to share a captured moment, their special memories. Should Susie-Belle who has now been dead for five years and five months, still be the dog who people first see?
I’ve been persuaded by a friend who organises the calendar, that there’s no question that Susie-Belle, sits on the cover. ‘No brainer’ she once said. Besides, it removes the need to pick a ‘winner’ each year – a task riddled with anathematizing social media behaviour: competition, popularity contests, tactical voting, campaigns for, or against, cliques, judging people’s canine family, winners v. losers – none of it appealing.
Decision made, Susie-Belle graces the calendar for another year. I can’t, however, decide on one. It gets harder, not easier as years pass. Susie-Belle is now longer dead than she was alive with us. Searching through and seeing the years marking my albums build, brings this horrible truth home. I hand over the task and send a selection.
Digging through my digital archive brings memories it’s pleasing to immerse myself in. Over the years I’ve taken thousands of photos of the dogs. It’s a hobby I enjoy. And an insurance against the emptiness I know lies ahead one day. The void I’ll pitch into when death takes them away. When memories is all I’ll have left.
When our first dog Jasmine died, I longed to look at her again, to go through memories of a long and happy life shared. Fourteen and a half years. But Jasmine’s life breached the time before digital and camera phones make it so easy to capture our daily lives. Photographs are now a regular presence in how many of us live, but it wasn’t always so. What I have are snapshots from special days out, holidays and the like, not a record of our ordinary daily life, our common togetherness.
Soon after Jasmine’s death, Renae joined us and I bought a new camera, committing to documenting her whole life through our daily activities.
Ten years on and it’s an embedded routine. Capturing our daily walks, the dogs’ sheer enjoyment of being outside, in the moment, an insurance against transience. No amount of photos of the dogs will ever be enough when they’ve gone. With thousands of Susie-Belle and each year when asked to select one, I can’t manage to do so without thinking if only I had more to pick from. If only I could go back and take another, and another.
When Twinkle died, grief made it impossible for me to take any photographs. I physically could not pick up the camera. It was a couple of weeks before I could face bringing to permanence Twinkle’s absence. The response surprised me, but writing now I know why it was. Receiving news that her old age symptoms were sinister and we had just months left together, I consciously set about capturing as many moments in the precious time we had left. Albert Claude had joined us and there was such poignancy recording him at the outset of his life and her at her end. Like winter and spring.
While photography in one sense immortalises, it also sharpens our awareness of life’s fleetingness. Each picture a brief moment never to be experienced again.
Now I look through my photo albums, crammed with captured moments and wish I had more. More photographs, memories and time together. There never will be enough.
Looking at things is never time wasted. If your children want to stand and stare, let them. When I was marvelling at the beauty of a painting or enjoying a great view it did not occur to me that the experience, however intense, would be of value many years later. But there it has remained, tucked away in hidden bits of my mind and now it comes, shouldering aside even the most passionate love affairs.Diana Athill