Ron and David Leslie. My dad and his older brother David at the seaside. I think this must have been taken around 1933.
“Fleeting” seems an entirely appropriate term for the photo above. I believe that it was taken on Kirkcaldy High Street – although I don’t know when. It was probably taken by a professional street photographer as the original has a number on the back, but there is no studio name or other identifying mark.
I have three such photos; this one, another of my paternal grandmother and the third of my 2 x great grandmother (Alexander Cruden’s mother) with her younger son Stewart. I think I’ve also seen one of my mother as a young teenager, but I’m not totally sure about this.
By its nature, all photography is fleeting; capturing only a fraction of a second out of a whole lifetime. But while an image is fleeting, its context may not be. The relationship between photographer and subject can be transitory – or incredibly complex. At one end of the continuum is street photography – where the subject is unknown to the photographer and the relationship between them lasts the duration of the shot, plus the time it takes to effect any transaction that might take place if those shots are printed “on spec” in the hope that subjects will buy the print (a phenomenon these days confined to tourist attractions, graduation ceremonies and school balls).
But as private camera ownership has grown – to the extent that millions of us have mobile phones with built-in cameras that allow us to capture images of those around us at any time – the relationship between photographer and subject becomes more complex.
As children, my parents only had pictures taken if the family went to a professional photographic studio, happened to be captured by a street photographer, or if an older sibling or cousin saved up for a Box Brownie.
In his youth my father was an enthusiastic photographer. This meant that when he first became a father – to me – he took lots of pictures, and my babyhood is recorded in large numbers of prints and 35mm slides. By the time my youngest brother came along, although photography had become cheaper, my father had lost his enthusiasm, and subsequently there are fewer photos of Derek as a child.
My own son has been photographed thousands of times by doting parents and grandparents. The earliest images are of a tiny wrinkled bundle barely an hour old. Pictures of his first days, weeks and months of life fill several albums and boxes. These days, I snap him in airport lounges and cafes – pretty much the only times we’re together with nothing better to do than play with our phones.
Whatever the setting or timing of the photos I take of my child, they are always informed by the incredibly powerful, complex relationship I have with him. I want to capture him in ways he’ll be happy to see – especially as so many photos end up on my blogs or other social media and I’m not the kind of parent who’s saving embarrassing shots for his 21st birthday or to show girlfriends. I guess often I also want to create and share images that I think are beautiful and that do justice to how amazingly gorgeous I believe him to be.
What that means of course, is that there is a form of censorship at work when I photograph my child. It springs from a mother’s love and dictates that even the most candid, apparently fleeting image carries with it a story that is enduring; a story of love and belonging and connection.