Every Picture Tells a Story

Every picture tells a story but how to decipher it? The act of looking at a photograph where we know nothing of the subject or the circumstances requires us to fill in the gaps ourselves. In my mother's box of photos I find this picture.  Five girls stand in a row smiling for the camera. It is obviously winter as they are wearing heavy coats, fur collars and muffs. They are carrying briefcases so I am guessing it is a school photo though I can’t make out the word written on the back. The year is 1942 so my mother would have been sixteen and the photograph is probably taken at the high school in Riga where she lived but there is no clue to the identity of the subjects. 

There is nothing out of the ordinary about this photograph in the slightest, apart from the fact that it has been very deliberately torn to separate the girl on the left from her friends. I am sure in the past I must have asked my mother about this but I have no memory of her reply.  Why was it torn? What did this girl do to warrant this treatment? Who was the photographer? Perhaps there was some schoolgirl feud which prompted this action at a later date. To rip up a photograph can be construed as an act of violence, a substitute for acting it out in reality but why keep the unwanted portion all these years? So many questions which can never be answered.


A photograph captures a particular moment in time: there is no disputing the fact that these girls stood in front of a camera in 1942, the shutter clicked and there they stand in perpetuity. But how it is interpreted depends on who is doing the looking and can change over time. When this one was taken, it was presumably a happy occasion celebrating friendship but subsequent events have obviously imbued it with an alternative reading. With hindsight we see the world differently.......