Tuesday, 21 October 2014

A Book to Read When Looking at Old Photos

Posted By Daisy


FOR YEARS I’ve had an idea in my head for a book. Based on the story of three sisters growing up in 1920’s rural Ireland, it details their lives, loves and loses.
The ‘Life’s Funny’ exhibition by Kilkenny artist Catherine Barron reminded me of my book-in-waiting. The paintings tell the story of Barron’s family’s life. Using old photographs for inspiration, Barron paints 1950’s style scenes onto old sheet metal and dusty book covers.
Maiden aunts sit at the foot of a couch laughing, her teenage mother smokes a cigarette, her father smiles at his bride on their wedding day, the family pose for a photo on the beach, two little girls celebrate a First Communion, and an empty trike signals the death of her baby sister.
It's lump-in-the-throat sort of stuff, like wedding photo montages set to music that seem to eulogise the participants.
'Fuzzy memory'
Sandy sandwiches, everyone drinking out of the same bottle of TK Lemonade, getting sucked under the waves at Coumeenole beach, getting sick in the car on the way home, having crisps and red lemonade in the pub while my mum had a glass of Guinness - does every Irish person have the same beach memories?
'The first holy communion'
'Nana watches over us'
We have an almost replica of this picture at home, with my nana standing in her housecoat at the door of her house which opened out onto the street, minding my sister and I.

(Barron's parents)

'The Rose Tinting'
Barron writes 'I just thought the photos were so lovely. That perfect day,
not a cloud in the sky. My parents so young, so strong, so happy.'

'Venetian Blind'
Rachael English 'Going Back'

Elevator Pitch: When Elizabeth Kelly meets the man of her dreams on a J1 working holiday in Boston, her hitherto mapped-out life changes forever. But things change and life moves on, and when a crisis happens over twenty years later, Elizabeth returns to the city with ghosts of that golden summer around every corner.

I loved this book and read it for hours one afternoon, dying to finish it and find out how the story ends.

It reminded me of my own J1 summer spent cocktail waitressing in Ivar's Acres of Clams in Seattle where I wore a Seattle Mariners t-shirt and watched the seagulls swoop and steal chips from tourists on the boardwalk outside, and the boats heading across Puget Sound towards Bainbridge Island. Inside we urged customers to ‘Slam some Clam’ and served seafood chowder and cups of melted butter and lobster to tourists wearing huge paper bibs. Every day an elderly man whose wife had died a few years previously would come to eat off-menu at the restaurant – he even had his own button on the cash register - ‘Henry’s Lunch’.

Sharing a two-bedroom apartment with seven others is now my idea of hell, but it was de rigeur in 2001. We drank Seabreezes in the Mexican restaurant near our house, and felt sophisticated eating Pad Thai. We watched ads for a new series called ‘Scrubs’ on an ancient wooden CRT TV,  and listened to Norah Jones ‘Come Away with Me’. I sold root beer and cream soda on a beer cart for $10 an hour, and drank Mike's Hard Lemonade at a baseball game. I ate Marshmallow Fluff with a spoon from a jar, spent my tips in Nordstrom and Gap, and emailed home from the internet cafes that were everywhere.

I also ate too many giant cookies and grilled cheese sandwiches, and pounded down the aeroplane steps in Cork airport unable to do up the buttons on my jeans, into the arms of my shocked (but diplomatic) boyfriend...

Catherine Barron’s ‘Life’s Funny’ exhibition continues at Panter and Hall, Pall Mall until 31st October. 


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