This is a photo of me in 1988, age 13, on a family holiday in Australia.
I look miserable, like I was having the worst day, worst holiday, worst life ever. Or maybe I’m just squinting from the glare of the overcast sky. Or perhaps was I being a full-on 13-year-old girl and therefore too cool to have her photo taken by her dad and so was obliged to pull an aloof ‘wotevz’ pose.
The thing is, I can’t remember having this photo taken. I can’t remember sitting at a table outside the Sydney Opera House and sullenly looking at a camera to provide evidence of having been there. And I can’t remember the view from that table, though, having been there a few times since, I can mentally imagine what that would look like.
I can, however, remember that sweatshirt – lilac with black polka dots (it was a fave) – and I can remember when my hair was golden blonde all by itself without any chemical intervention needed.
And I do have one very specific memory of that day, but it takes place well out of range of that photo.
After arriving in Sydney, I’d had a stomach bug and had spent a day or so feeling ill and throwing up a bit and watching a weird Canadian children’s TV show called “Today’s Special“. But that day at Circular Quay was the first day where I’d been feeling well enough to get back in to the spirit of the holiday.
At Circular Quay, I’d gone to a gelato shop under the Cahill Expressway. I’d asked for a small cup of lemon sorbet, but the charming Italian bloke there had cheerfully scooped a big cup, and told me I was a beautiful girl, in that jovial Italian way.
That nice experience and the sweet sorbet cheered me up and made me feel much more energetic, and I enjoyed myself again. (Until I got sick again in Brisbane, but that’s another story.)
The whole idea of taking holiday snaps, it seems, is to record where we’ve been to help trigger happy holiday memories when we’re back home.
But even in this modern world where almost everyone has a camera on them, it’s usually not not possible to capture those lovely moments. A camera can take a photo of a cup of lemon sorbet, but does that capture the experience of a happy holiday? Would a photo of me with a mouthful of sorbet have captured my nice feeling more than I remember it?
15 years later I was in Sydney. I took the ferry over to Manly and went for a walk along Manly Beach.
I stopped at a picnic table and took this photo on auto-timer.
I didn’t know it when I took the photo, but the camera’s position made me look like Gulliverette in Manlyput. (And I’m annoyed that the little people won’t play with me. And my hair isn’t naturally blonde any more. And a seagull pooped on the table.)
I was just mucking around with my camera. The resulting photo isn’t even something I experienced there. It’s like a special bonus experience that happened solely inside the camera.
If I’d wanted a typically Manly photo, I could have taken one by the ferry or along The Corso. Instead this almost anonymous seaside photo is my happy holiday memory snap.
Without directly showing it, the photo reminds me of my favourite thing to do when I travel – going for a bit of an explore. Jumping on a ferry, walking down a street, turning a corner and not quite knowing what will be around it.
And in turn, I think that also serves as my holiday photography manifesto. Instead of taking photos as evidence I was there or attempting to manufacture a memory, I let the photos be their own experience and form their own memories.