THE LAST PHOTOGRAPH
I had made plans to take the last photograph on the last day of January, the day when United Kingdom left the European Union and the last day when I would take photographs for the London Archive. I would be at work until 4.45 pm, a few minutes before the sunset. There would still be enough light to take that one last shot, or more, if I chose the location well and stayed within ten minutes walking distance from the coffee shop.
The last photograph would be The Last Photograph because I would give it that importance by taking it and announcing it. It could therefore be of anything. However, that day signifying what it did, it was unrealistic to think that I would’ve had the mental strength to wander about with my camera in my usual manner.
In search for a view to turn my camera towards, I gravitated, for somewhat obvious reasons, towards the river. The Thames is perhaps why London came to being at all; it is the original route to and from the city separating — and in doing so, also connecting — South and North London. However, to take the last photograph this way felt false and contrived. I thought of other options, for example photographing whatever view I could get of 10 Downing Street, but despite the justified reasons for any of them to qualify for the meaningful Last Photograph, none of these options were meaningful enough.
I came to think of an evening almost four years ago when I took the first photograph. This project started then, without me knowing, when I stopped at the traffic lights and looked around me. I saw nothing particularly memorable but the view was still ingrained in me, perhaps because of what I had lost that night. Although not taken with my Rolleiflex, but with the camera obscura of my mind, and although this project hadn’t even yet crossed my mind, I still consider this mental image, this memory, to be the first photograph I took for the London Archive.
I was content for a few days thinking that this view, whatever it looked like now, in whatever weather conditions, would be the Last Photograph. Then I simply decided otherwise. Like the first photograph, which has been engraved only on my mind, so would the last one be. I didn’t take a photograph of that junction or of anything else on the 31st of January. I only walked through that junction, like I did on that evening almost four years ago.
I now look back, like photographs used to make people do. I can’t remember much about how the world appeared before everything changed, before that rude political awakening in June 2016, like I can seldom remember buildings along my commute which have been demolished and replaced by something new, after being hidden behind the blotches of scaffolding for several weeks. I won’t dwell on politics, however, not here, not now. Everything has been, and will continue to be, said about these circumstances. Instead, I remember, and I seem to keep remembering the obscure, the casual and the peripheral; the words and gestures which occurred and twirled in the flux of life, but which nevertheless mattered.
Inevitably, there is a last photograph. I went to look for photographs in an area that I frequented at one time. I walked on the street, once so familiar, and recognised random marks and signposts, for example, the door which I often mistook for the one I needed to go through. When I finally got to the spot and cautiously looked inside, I saw new occupants and their slogans. I didn’t stay, but walked on and turned to a side street where I saw a construction site with its door open. That rare afternoon sunlight that was shining, how can I describe it? It is always Light that I photograph, that I attempt –and that is all I can do – to catch, to capture, to hold onto, all those worn out words which, nevertheless are true. That photograph was the last frame of the roll, so I put in a new one and continued, guided by a hazy sense of where I should go. I wanted to take a photograph of one particular corner but when I found it, it didn’t appear as it had done on another spring night a few years ago. Perhaps I had had one too many then. I certainly remember giving a hug or two that were tighter and longer than my sober ones.
That night was one among many nights and days when we all played our roles, said our lines but thought our thoughts to ourselves and lived our lives not knowing what we meant to each other.
I made a few attempts to compose a photograph of that corner but eventually gave up and wandered off. I found no other photographs on that day. The photograph of the construction site ended up being the last image I took for the London Archive. It seems apt since London is continuously under construction, under erasure and always changing -- we walk from one era to another, from a beginning to a closure, unannounced and without a warning.
© Carita Silander