Bohemia Village Voice  Bohemia Village Voice

For bohemians everywhere

Kim Haviland

The Photograph

I had decided to visit the museum as they were showing an exhibition of Edwardian photographs of St.Leonards.
The pictures were splendidly evocative. There were images of shops with the owners stood proudly beside their wares, schoolchildren in regimented lines with stern looking teachers and elegant ladies in fine dresses. Many of the locations were familiar, but some had changed beyond recognition.
My attention was drawn to one particular photograph, that pictured the seafront from the Royal Victoria Hotel towards Grosvenor Gardens, on a bright summer’s day in 1903. The photograph was full of life, a moment in time, frozen forever. I imagined that if I blinked, the picture would spring into action and time would continue.
As I gazed at the scene, I noticed a man dressed in white flannel trousers, a striped blazer, a straw hat and carrying a cane. I stared intently, because to my utter astonishment I realised that he was walking towards me! I closed my eyes for a moment wondering if they were deceiving me, but he was still walking, swinging his can nonchalantly, moving closer and closer. Then he stopped and beckoned to me. He was smiling and I felt myself drawn towards him.
I am no longer in the museum, but on the seafront in the photograph, and it is alive! Carriages with horses fly past me, nannies in black bonnets push huge, ornate perambulators along the promenade. Then something occurs to me; although I can clearly see the horses’ hooves striking the ground, I can’t hear them. In fact, I can’t hear anything except for a few mumbled voices in the background. I can see the gentle breeze on the silken dresses and feathered hats, but I can’t feel it, neither can I smell fresh sea air, just a hint of polish! The people can’t see me and they don’t walk through me, it’s as if I occupy a space of my own which does not exist in the photograph.
The man begins to walk, I follow him. Almost immediately and without any apparent effort, I find myself standing beside the St Leonards Pier. I stare in amazement; it was demolished in 1951! I want to touch it, to feel the past, so I place both hands on the railing. It is real; solid mass; I can feel it, I am euphoric!
“Are you alright, Miss?” came a voice behind me. I turned to see the museum curator; I realised that I was leaning on the wall.
“Yes,” I said.
“It’s a wonderful photograph isn’t it?” he said, “so full of life.”
“Yes,” I replied feeling confused, like waking from a dream.
“When you look at it you can almost see movement,” he continued.
“You can,” I said, glancing back at the photograph which was now quite still.
“You know there’s an interesting story behind these photos,” said the curator.
“You see the gentleman in the blazer with the cane, he’s actually the photographer. For some of his photographs he would set up his camera and his assistant would take the picture whilst he placed himself within the scene.”
“Really,” I said.
“Yes, he said it was important.”
As I left the museum, I glanced at a notice which accompanied the exhibition. I read:
ERIC CHANTE – Photographer
(1870–1954)
Those who look deep into my work
will know my world.

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