A Picture without a Picture

I’ve been reading Susan Sontag’s essays, “On Photography”.   A few pages into the first essay she writes, “Travel becomes a strategy for accumulating photographs.”  She refers to snapshots as souvenirs – and that clicked for me, so to speak.  I don’t buy souvenirs, I take pictures.

However, on my first trip to Ireland I chose not to photograph one beautiful moment.  I felt that capturing it would somehow rob the moment of its magic.  1,000 words could never do it justice, but I attempted to describe for my memoir what didn’t feel right to photograph.  This short piece will be at the end of Chapter 6, about my first day in Dublin.

Lady in the Leaves

In a shaded courtyard somewhere outside the National Gallery, I sat down to rest my feet and lament my insensible choice of footwear. The wind gusted, and a squeal pierced through the sound of rustling leaves, attracting my attention. A few feet away, I saw her.

Alone, she drifted across the courtyard through a sea of autumn color. Arms outstretched, her weathered hands poked out from the tailored ends of her coat as the wind tousled the white curls above her wrinkled face.

Leaves like glowing embers showered from the trees, and she raised her arms to them like a child in the rain, smelling the sweet, earthy fragrance as they tumbled through her hands. Then she kicked through the brittle waves, her scarlet checks touching the gleeful corners of her pale-blue eyes as she watched them rise and fall.

Instinctively, my fingers ran across the buttons of my camera to collect the image before the moment vanished. But as euphoric notes burst forth with each kick of her polished shoes, I began to fear that the sound of my shutter would startle her out of her moment. And even if it didn’t, could I simply click and capture her joy – bringing her home like a cheap souvenir?

No, this flicker in time wasn’t mine.

I picked myself up, a hot pain radiating across my soles, and limped away unnoticed by the lady in the leaves. Her picture still hangs in the only place that it should, living and vibrant in my gallery of memories.