For Every Minute You Are Angry You Lose Sixty Seconds of Happiness, by Julian Germain
The cover is fabric with a colourful floral design. The first images inside are a double page set of an opened photograph album laid flat. One side of the set is the blank inside cover of the album with its turned corners. The facing page contains small photographs stuck into the album, the kind that would have been taken with a film camera from before digital. They are mostly snapshots of plants on tables or growing in a heavily stocked garden. One single image is of a smartly dressed woman sitting in a deckchair. It is hard to tell the era - somewhere from the 60s -70s at a guess.
My first impressions are that the book's fabric cover now makes sense. It has been chosen to echo the photo album format like the one photographed inside and that we all used to have pre-digital. The snapshots inside hint at an unfolding story about the woman and the flowers and I am already intrigued by the original format. Turning the page and there is another double page set of a different photo album (the corners of the covers are different colours.) There is a postcard of a trip to Devon and more snapshots of flowers. There is a table with even more of them by a window overlooking a street of terraced houses. For so many to be photographed and placed into a treasured album they must have formed a significant part of someones (the woman's?) life. Again, in this set amongst the flora, she appears, standing in her garden and dressed in a floral dress.
I am in love with the format of this book. The photographed yellowing pages of the "photo albums," with their plastic spiral bindings are a clue that as a viewer I will be delving into an intriguing personal story - I am already hooked.
The next page has the title and description, "Portrait of an elderly gentleman. Photographs by Julian Germain with the photo albums of Charles Snelling." I realise that the woman in the photos (Charles's wife) has died and that the elderly gentleman and his photo albums will be the focus of the book.
The first portrait of Charles Snelling is wonderful. Not only is the detail beautiful (all portraits shot with a medium format camera apparently) but the house is a faded time capsule with yellow painted wooden panels half covering a floral design wallpaper. The man is holding aloft two flowers. To me they represent himself and his wife and his continuation of his life without her - never to be forgotten.
There is graphical image of an upright broom against a wall. Above it, perched on the panelling is a row of post-it notes with varying "be back soon" messages. Juxtaposed with the broom the repeat of the word, "gone" on the messages resonated with me and I took to refer to the fact that his wife had now "gone" too, with the broom put away for the last time. Possibly an over-sentimental reading of the image but that's how I read it.
One of my favourite images is of Charles Snelling in his kitchen preparing food at the cooker. He has his back to the camera and is thrown out of focus. In the foreground, on a table, is a plate of steaming food. The steam curls up in wisps and is highlighted against the dark area of Mr Snelling's jacket. It is a beautiful image.
Another poignant shot is of Mr Snelling's hand resting on a table covered by a floral cloth. On the table and almost as if he is reaching out to it is a single photograph of his wife. Likewise, a detail shot of a ornamental dogs head attached to a floral papered wall is covered in a film of dust. Did Mrs Snelling mostly do the cleaning? Judging by her smartly dressed appearance she would not have tolerated dust! Maybe Mr Snelling does not notice and from experience I know that with my elderly mother's failing eyesight she does not notice the gradual encroachment of this type of thing in her own house.
There are numerous portraits and detail shots like this. Too many to mention here. As the book's story unfolds the viewer becomes drawn further and further into the narrative. The photo albums continue, interspersed with the portraits of Charles Snelling coping with life on his own (taking the dogs to the beach, sitting outside his greenhouse and in his Reliant Robin car,) and they tell a very powerful story. I have learnt so much from this book.
The influence that Germain's book had on me can be seen in some of my images for assignment 3 - buildings in use. I found the relationship that the book portrayed between the man, his deceased wife, and the passage of time a fascinating concept and I wanted to attempt something similar.
I have included a sample of my images below.