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Clement's Corner: Images In A Landscape

Harry Madison is in a hospital bed, believing that he is dying. He asks his nephew for an unusual favour, as Owen Clement reveals.

Harry Madison believed that he was dying. His recent by-pass heart operation made him realize that his time was near. Although he did not fear death, he was a brooder. Having plenty of time on his hands, small problems grew larger and larger until eventually they became all–consuming. He hoped that when his time came, his well-meaning though flighty sister Dolly would let him die in peace. He lay in the hospital bed feeling helpless, useless and furious.

Dolly frequently annoyed her elder brother by saying, “Oh! Harry you do exaggerate” and, “Lighten up dear, it’s not that serious.’’ She also badgered him to get up and not lie around waiting to die. He was only in his sixties, she said, and had plenty of life still left in him.

Being a well organized person, he had contacted his solicitor and settled his will. The house and contents, he decided, would go to Dolly and all his worldly wealth, to Dolly’s only child, Lance.

Widowed early in his marriage with no children of his own; Harry set his mind to becoming a successful property developer.

When Lance and his mother moved in to live with him after the boy’s feckless father deserted them, he introduced Lance into his own passion for photography.

Lance from the beginning had loved the magic of watching the images on the prints come to life in the darkened room lit by a dim red bulb hanging from the ceiling. Harry’s bathroom had doubled as a dark room in those early years.

Harry had recently set Lance up in his own studio in the city, with state of the art equipment, and attractively furnished accommodation above. Harry also handed over all his own extensive range of photographic equipment and manuals, including his beloved Hasselblad reflex camera. Though superseded by more technically up-to-date cameras, his early model Hasselblad still proved to be a masterpiece of German engineering. To Harry, it had no equal.

Lance, overwhelmed with gratitude, much to Harry’s embarrassment, embraced and kissed his uncle in the café during lunch when Harry proposed setting him up in business. Lance’s natural artistic ability quickly saw him become a successful commercial photographer.

One of Harry’s deepest regrets was that he had never produced anything worthwhile with his photographic efforts.

Lance always managed to lift his uncle out of his pessimistic mood. On a recent visit, Harry lay looking through his large hospital window onto a bright sun-bleached landscape. “Lance, my boy,” he said, “I have been looking out onto this bright sunny day –“

Thinking his uncle was in cheerful frame of mind Lance interrupted him by saying, “It is glorious isn’t it. Why don’t I take you out for a walk?”

“Not now, maybe later – one of my greatest regrets Lance is that I was never able to photograph this light successfully, either in colour or in black and white. Few photographers in my opinion have mastered this technique. Dawn, dusk and stormy- weather are relatively easy but this -”

“I’m sure you have.” Lance said as he sat on the bed beside Harry.

“Don’t patronize me my boy. What I would like though, is for you to try – will you?”

Lance was deeply hurt that his uncle could think that Lance would patronize him.

“Of course, however, if you couldn’t –“Lance began.

“You are professional photographer now with some excellent work in your portfolio,” Harry cut in, “I was ever only an amateur. Anyway, will you?”

“I’ll try, I promise.” Lance covertly watched his uncle wondering what he could do to lift the old man’s spirits.

The brief visit soon ended, as Lance had to be at his studio for an important assignment. Lance kissed his uncle’s forehead and patted his hands before leaving, promising to return in a few days time.

Lance’s mother Dolly came bustling in fiddling with her tinted ash blond hair and dressed in various shades of yellow looking like a flower in full bloom ready to drop its petals. She plopped her basket down on the end of the bed.

“Dear me it’s hot outside. And how is my big brother today – Oh – and did I see Lance leaving just now?”

“Um hmm,” Harry concurred.

“I don’t see him much these days.”

“He’s been kept busy, Dolly”

“Too busy to spend time with his own mother?” she said flopping into a chair.

Her main pursuit, apart from supervising the cook-housekeeper and the gardener, was shopping. She invariably came with purchases that Harry neither requested, nor needed. This time she brought a pile of mysteries she had picked up off a remainder table with small print and a box of chocolates that she liked and proceeded to help herself. Worst of all, she gossiped continuously of acquaintances of long ago whom Harry had either completely forgotten or who were of no interest to him.

Her jolliness only succeeded in getting on his nerves.

A week after his previous visit, Lance walked into the ward carrying a package.

“It’s great that I have you both together,” he said ignoring his mother’s ill-tempered look.

“Oh, why is that?” she snapped.

He lifted the flap of the 8” by 10” sized envelope and drew out eight enlarged black and white prints. He selected one taken of the rear view of a couple silhouetted against a shimmering river scene. The man broke the symmetry of the composition by holding one arm aloft while scratching his armpit with the other hand. This intimate action somehow gave the picture life and balanced the spaces. The composition captured the mood and atmosphere of the heat of the midday sun. The silhouetted couple reclining in the shade in the foreground gave the scene perspective. Lance was overjoyed at his uncle’s suggestion that he should enter it and a couple of the others Lance had brought along in a photographic contest.

While Lance was agreeing with his uncle’s suggestion, Harry suddenly realized that the photographs were his own and not Lance’s. It was part of a series he had taken many years earlier of which he had completely forgotten.

Dolly looking over Lance’s shoulder said, “Very nice dear, but don’t you think it’s a bit, you know, rude to show a man scratching his armpit?”

“That man, my dear sister, is our father,” Harry said sharply.

Lance had discovered the negatives stored in an old cardboard box belonging to his uncle and with judicious cropping, he enlarged, retouched, printed and mounted them ready to be professionally framed.

“As you can see with these others,“ he said displaying them one-by-one to his uncle and mother, “They could form an excellent tableau. I have arranged for them to be exhibited in a major gallery in the city. “

Harry sat up, threw back the covers and said, “Hand me my clothes, please, I’ll take you up on that walk now Lance”.

© 2005


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