At the start of every game, I ask the audience-participants if they are happy to be photographed. Most people have said yes. 29 out of 37 players were happy to be photographed. Yet, I have only managed to take photos of 3 participants on 2 occasions.
These photographs from the Edinburgh games were both taken after playing. The left one is from the first day, taken in The Forest Café of myself, Carolyn Appelbe and Zoe King and on the right, from the final day, is a photograph of Margaret Maguire in The Little Shop of Memory.
More photos of players in different places and locations would be very helpful. They might help me to recall specifics of the conversation. Photographs might help to convey to you the sense of the location and event. And frankly, this performance diary looks better with pictures.
It is silly that I have taken so few, because photographs are important in the game. They are often the source of stories told. Their significance to my research project is far more than as a pretty adornment.
Photographs are often important sources in family histories. They may provide a stimulus for research or for stories to be told in family settings. Like personal letters and diaries, they can reveal a more intimate connection to the past than the publicly maintained records. A family resemblance may be observed or a sentiment perceived. Such things may be works of the imagination, but can still manifest a powerful visceral emotion.
One of the chapters of my thesis will be called ‘presenting’, this will deal with the use of photographic imagery within family history performance. I know that photographs matter.
So why haven’t I taken more?
The taking of photographs during the game is awkward. The first day was easier, Shane was around after the game had finished to take photographs, but in an attempt to avoid being intrusive, these don’t capture the play, but the reflections afterwards.
If I have to take the photographs myself, when should I take them? At the start, before we have played…? but the beginning is already weighted with necessary procedure. During the game, when we’re playing…? standing up to take photographs at this moment would pull all of us away from the play, interrupt the process, spoil the game. As most famously observed by Peggy Phelan, the documenting of the live moment would irrevocably alter it. So the best time is at the end, after the play. The game is done and the players relax, yet often the stories continue. There are still moments to be spoiled.
Several times in August I resolved to definitely take a photograph in every game from now on. It would help me to remember the stories if I could see the faces. I made plans. Like the paperwork at the start, I would build this into the performance. A seamless transition to a photograph. Every time that I did this, in the very next game, at least one person did not want to be photographed. My resolve was quickly weakened.
For me, taking photographs is uncomfortable. I ask, can I take a photograph now? I stand up, step back, try to take a photo of you that does not include identifiably those people sitting around you. It puts you on the spot in a way that the rest of the game works hard to avoid. For this moment, when my skill-less fingers press the screen on the icon that stands in for a button, you are the star of the show. In many ways you always were, but now the focus is turned explicitly on you. And if I fail to hold the camera, the phone, the device, still, our efforts are wasted.
Phelan, Peggy, Unmarked: the Politics of Performance, transferred to Digital Printing 2006 (London: Routledge, 1996)