Sunday, August 7

I’m old (I was until you came along)

A series of images occupy an exhibition hall, bearing the title of the year in which they were taken: 1975, 1976, 1977, so on until 2020. Forty-five photographs, forty-five years old. I speak of The Brown Sisters, a series of photographs taken by Nicholas Nixon and exhibited until September at the KBr Barcelona Photo Center.

The series of photographs, portraits of Nixon’s wife and her sisters, tells us about a tension between the passage of time narrated through chronology, that is, the organization of time in a linear way, and the capture of the moment, is that is, the ability of photography to stop time.

As I walk around the room I think about how memory works. In my case, it is made up of isolated memories in which time perhaps stopped for a moment, like in that animated film, Reverse, I feel like I keep the moments in balls that are piling up in a messy way. I cannot construct a chronological account of my memory, it is more like a circle or perhaps a spiral in which all those moments that took me out of time are placed.

Hilda Doolittle wrote:

Why didn’t you come before?

Why did you come

after all?

why did you come

to disturb my deterioration,

I’m old,

(I was until you arrived)

I think Doolittle’s words describe quite well this feeling that the passage of time is what happens when nothing and no one interrupts us, disturbs us, takes us out of time.

And that’s when I ask myself: what is it to be old? What does it mean to grow old if we assume that our memory is not necessarily linear? And above all, how it is accompanied, how it is cared for in old age, when all those memories pile up and explode disorderly.

Ann Sirot and Raphaël Balboni have written and directed Crazy for life, available on Filmin until the end of August as part of the Atlàntida Mallorca Film Fest. The film tells the story of how Suzanne, director of an art center, develops a neurodegenerative disorder that changes her life, but also that of her son Alex and her partner Noémie who were thinking about having a child. At one point in the movie, Noémie takes some pictures of a smiling Suzanne who is amused. Noémie wants to continue capturing memories of Suzanne while Alex finds it strange, sinister, to take pictures of a sick woman, a mother who is no longer the same, who is disappearing. And it is in that act of photographing where the paradox of The Brown Sisters, the photograph fixes a moment, a happy event, disturbs Suzanne’s deterioration, stops it for a moment and simultaneously is the proof that this deterioration exists, that her mother is no longer the one she knew.

My grandfather is almost 90 years old and unlike Suzanne, his memory and mind are intact. We take pictures with filters that put animal ears on us or making faces at the camera and he tells me stories about his life like the one when he got on a horse and went to do mischief in the next town; or the time he fell in love at the dance or the one with his grandmother Inés who told him “friend for friend, the best friend beats her, there is no better friend than a hard man in the pocket ” every time I wanted to go out there and that he repeats every time I talk to him about my friends. My grandfather’s stories are his way of fixing memories, of sharing them, like photographs.

Maybe old age is that too, recovering the moments in which we step out of time and rearrange them again to leave a legacy to those who follow us. It may be that our job, that of those of us who are not yet old, is to accompany this process, to make it happen without imposing our rhythms or our expectations. Let them be, that they continue to be, that they become again.