i like going through my family photo archive. archive, of course, is a big word and is not entirely applicable in this case. it’s mostly old prints that i keep in a plastic bag in a paper box. not the most sophisticated way to treat an archive, i know.
i have looked at those photographs since i was a child. both of my parents were enthusiastic about photography and we always had a decent camera at home. my dad showed me how to develop film and make prints. as in many other families, we did it in our bathroom, oblivious to the deadly effects of the chemical soup we were releasing down the drain. it was the late eighties.
the family archive grew and i found it mystical to study in the privacy of my room. old and new together. i don’t know what it was (and is) that i enjoy so much about it. a good old mix of nostalgia, curiosity, imagination, and day-dreaming. the other day, i was looking at the few photos that i have scanned and was struck by one in particular.
it’s a picture of me hanging on a pine branch. i am four. we have just moved out of central asia to the baltic region and everything is new. especially the landscape. the smells, the trees, the light, the way the air feels when you breathe it in. the minimalistic and elegant nature of a flat forested landscape where water collects in myriad lakes or flows towards the sea. when land and sea meet, they make an impression as if they’re kept apart by a magic power because they almost form a single horizontal line. how does the sea not wash over?
the old photograph spoke to me with newly-discovered significance. perhaps it is my presently heightened awareness of how childhood experiences can help form attachment to or detachment from a certain environment later in life. i have spent the last two years studying human attitudes to nature and landscape and it most certainly prompted me to look at that photo with new eyes. it suddenly dawned on me that this is it, that is where and when it all started – my aesthetic attachment to moderately northern, baltic landscapes. i saw it very clearly.
i remembered feeling exhilarated as my dad picked me up so i could reach the branch. he did that a lot, probably encouraged by seeing how happy it made me. i was intoxicated by the new atmosphere. there was a small pond deeper into the woods where it was quite dark and where we went to feed the ducks. there were mushrooms and berries to pick. there was a thousand things to explore. late summer to early autumn as they unravel around the gulf of finland is still my favorite time of the year. i wish i could define what it is exactly that makes my heart clench in joy but i can’t. i can only try to record glimpses of it – natural details and human-made artifacts. i can find them anywhere, in thicker or thinner concentration. but sometimes nothing can replace the real thing…