A Picture Worth a Thousand Words?

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I was recently back in the UK for a short while.

I was pretty busy and on a few days the weather was pretty dire!

So I didn’t get much chance to take pictures.

Spending time in two different countries allows one to shoot quite different images. But what’s interesting (ok obvious 🙂 ) about that is how your different audiences react to each location.

My shots of Portugal are of far more interest to my non-Portuguese (and other southern European) friends and followers and for my shots of middle England it’s the other way around.

I was sharing some images of English canal boats, and my friend Maria very graciously said that she could always read such stories into my shots

As flattered as I was I had to say…

“C’mon Maria, it’s a boat parked by a tree, sure it’s a pretty scene but there’s no story”

She begged to differ and with the steely resolve and determination of someone who knows what she’s talking about, offered to provide a story to accompany the picture.

Despite Portuguese being her first language, she even wrote it in English.

So this is the picture

And here’s Maria’s story.

The day began to brighten timidly after a long night of intense thunder.

The aroma of wet earth permeated in the air, and the branches of the trees swayed as if they were dancing the wind’s melody, the storm had passed and the environment was inspiring a contagious serenity.

The Grand Union Canal seemed to be still asleep, and around the barges moored along its banks no movement was noticeable other than the slight rippling of the water. Yet inside the old boat, anchored close to the old willow tree, someone was holding a steaming cup of coffee and staring out with a piercing look.

Of indeterminable age, people would often speculate – how old could he be? Forty perhaps, certainly no more than fifty! His thin body, his lively gaze, and a soft smile made it hard to guess how many springs he had seen.

Robert, too many people, was just the lonely man, the eternal dreamer, a hermit and a writer, who for decades seemed to be waiting for the return of someone like the Portuguese awaited the return of D. SebastiĂŁo.

It had been a long time since he stopped being the poor market stall trader…

He sipped his coffee slowly as he peered out of the window of the boat. The fishing would have to wait! His experience told him that no fish would take the bait at this time, and he also didn’t feel inspired to sit in front of the old typewriter. His yet unfinished book could wait!

He buttoned his coat, put on his hat, reached for the backpack hanging from an old oak hanger, and decided to leave the boat. With any luck he was going to photograph the ducks had seen a couple of weeks ago swimming amongst the boats in the marina.

His steps on land were calm and assured, his face raised as if he were defying the cold chill in the air, and a familiar yet indescribable emotion filled his eyes as he gazed admiringly at the canal, the boat and the place on the canal where he liked to moor.

His quiet thoughts were interrupted as he saw a couple approaching.

They seemed lost as if searching for something.

The memory of another time assaulted his mind’s eye and he inevitably saw himself back in that place – a 20-year ago flashback to a time that felt like a dream, but he knew to be real!

Memories… so many memories!!

He thought of her… His hand in hers, his heart beating like crazy and their eyes alive with the promise to remain together to share the miracle of life…

Even today 20 years later, he was wondering if Bella had been an illusion created by his romantic mind! If she was real why had she never returned? Why he had never heard anything from her or about the baby that they had expected but he didn’t even know had really existed?

It would be good not to remember… good not to remember the good or the bad moments like a fool in love with castles in the air.

A thought occurred to him… There is no romanticism in nostalgia for a memory if it isn’t born from a truly unique and unconditional feeling… he smiled to himself, he searched for pen and paper in his backpack. That thought should to be recorded. Maybe to be used in the book.

The couple approached reluctantly.

It was the girl who spoke. Good Morning. Can you tell me whose boat that is? She seemed to be no more than twenty-one or twenty-two years old. Without waiting for a response she handed him a photograph. This is my mother she explained

“Your mother?”

Yes! My mother… Shortly before her death, she told me that the owner of this boat was her great love… and asked me to look for him! Can you help us…? We’ve come a long way!

Bella… He looked at the girl in shock as the guy who accompanied her, seemed uneasy and uncertain at which way to look… recognizing the common physical traits between boatman and his girlfriend he was starting to realize the truth.

“You’re looking for the owner of this boat?” Asked Robert

Yes. I’m his… it’s a long story but I need to find… my Dad… who would be the owner of this boat if it’s the same man as it was 21 years ago!

Robert felt the ground tremble. Bella had never come back to him, he had never learned about the outcome of her pregnancy… but there standing in from of him was Bella’s daughter… and staring at the young woman he realized… This young woman was his child, she was living proof that he had not dreamed! Now he knew!

What he didn’t know, for now, was that Bella’s parents were exclusively responsible for her sudden and unexpected disappearance.

How could their little girl be pregnant by the orphan who lived on an old boat and worked market stalls on the streets of little English town? It was a shame for the family!

Bella had tried in vain to convince her parents that she didn’t care about this humble life with Robert and that the most important thing was the sincerity and depth of their feelings, the honesty of their attitudes… She had told her parents everything, out of love and out of respect and they had reciprocated poorly. Less than twenty-four hours after sharing the news of her pregnancy she was inside an airplane without even seeing Robert to say goodbye.

Her destination was decided and her life chosen!

Many hours, and three stops later, she had arrived in some far away land where an old friend of the family, with whom her parents had arranged for her to marry was waiting for her.

She never returned to England, she had been locked away in an unknown city, never happy and never forgave her parents.

Bella was eighteen when she had been forced to stop dreaming of the fullness of love and thirty-nine when a particularly savage pneumonia combined with a lack of medical care had freed her from the pain that had consumed her in that remote land. But before she passed she had given her daughter a photograph and had told her the truth about her birth. At that moment Bella asked her daughter to look for her father. This was her last wish.

A month later the wish was fulfilled!

Unexpected things happen all the time, sometimes miracles too…

Back on the banks of the canal, the wind blew softly, the boat swayed and the trees continued their dance.

The morning faded away taking with it the chill and the sun broke through the clouds… finally Robert hugged his child!

The old photograph still in his hand…

I have to say that I’m rather touched, touched that Maria took the time (and considerable effort) to write a whole story in a second Language. But also touched that we can have such a different opinion about the stimulus our photos can invoke in the eyes of others.

In this modern age of social media likes and throw away platitudes, to actually have a conversation about a photograph and its impact is a rewarding thing.

I encourage you to seek it out. But not from me, I just thought it was a pretty scene when I hit the shutter  🙂

As well as writing, Maria is talented photographer in her own right and you can see her work on Instagram and Flickr


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