step back
glade frame

There is an old framed photograph in the spare bedroom of a friend's house that I can't make sense of.

The setting is the anonymous edge of a forest. There are roughly a dozen people, teenagers or young adults, standing or sitting, dressed in what appear to be theatrical costumes, although what those costumes represent, or which period they are from, is unclear to me. To the right, one of the youths wears a straggling fake beard. Some form of performance is about to begin, or has recently finished. The photograph appears to capture a moment outside of the performance itself. The subjects seem distracted, tired, a touch restless. A few may be unaware of the camera, whilst others are striking what must be lens-conscious poses. One or two stare directly at the photographer.

I can't tell if the scene is real, if it's staged, if it's carefully curated. You're unsure to what extent a performance is taking place. At what stage have we wandered in? Are we seeing something more than just theatre in the fields? The costumes and the summer scenery and the absence of anything but youth - the fake beard serving only to remind us of how young its wearer is - give the whole image a dream-like carelessness, a sense of resting your head against a drowsy stump of oak, watching mayflies weft and clamour as a long evening draws on, allowing fairy-folk to play and dip about the woods.

Some of the young people chat to one another as if nothing remarkable is taking place. Perhaps nothing is.

The photograph, at first glance, appears black and white, but when you look closer there are woozy patches of colour: a red hat, the occasional slip of green on a jacket. In my mind, a few, individual items of clothing escape the grey-scale, but why would that be? Even now, I doubt whether the colour is there. I doubt the green the most. How can partial colour be achieved in a photograph so seemingly old, and why? An artistic decision in the developing stage? Has the rest of the photograph simply faded away, leaving only a few islands of original hue? I know so little about photography, how light and form are developed, the material process. I don't even know if it's possible to develop a photo so that only select areas of colour come through.

But of course, for me, this all adds to the questionable performance of the piece. What is being done deliberately here, what poses are being struck, what are those costumes supposed to mean and are they costumes all the time, who is staring down the lens, what age am I staring into, and where are all those people now?

I couldn't even take a photograph of the photograph myself. The light from the room's one window fell in such a way as to cast an obscuring glare on the glass frame and if I closed the curtains the room was too dark to capture detail. I don't mind. It will still be there when I visit again, months or years from now. In the meantime, I've asked the owners what they know about the scene, when it was taken, why they chose to give it such a prominent position on the bedroom wall. A part of me hopes they have no answers.

Walberswick 300124