I always speak of my 'eureka moment' when, having in July 2008 reached a crisis, I made a commitment to get therapy, but also to carry out intensive Internet research in order to equip myself for the sessions ahead. Initially I thought I should concentrate on whether I might be gay. Then I saw it was Something Else. That was the eureka moment, when a whole lot suddenly made sense and could be explained, an instant of total conviction. I just knew that I'd found the answer to some lifelong nagging questions:
Why do I know that I'm a different person from the one people see?
Why, even after all these years, and all the encouragements and praise and adoration, does my life feel wrong and misdirected?
Why do I still push against my given role and the behaviour that comes with it?
Who am I really?
But there had been earlier moments, when I was confronted with a passing situation that got me off-balance, that got me thinking for a while even if self-understanding did not follow. This post is about a few of those incidents. They were caught on photos, and I'll mostly let the pictures do the talking. If I searched, I dare say I could come up with more such photos from my vast archive. But these will do. And - I hardly need to say it - there were also many, many other incidents not captured on camera.
So. It's July 2001, twelve years back, and M--- and I are in Portsmouth on a sunny afternoon. It's Guildhall Square. We are admiring the very imposing Guildhall.
But from somewhere is coming a rhythmical crashing noise. In one corner of the vast Square is the University, and that's where the noise seems to be coming from. We wander over.
Yes, there's a small crowd of students, and some of them are banging away on drums of various kinds, not quite together. It seems to be: have a go, make a Big Sound! Perhaps it's the Last Day of the academic year. The atmosphere is good. Other ordinary members of the public are watching too. We both take a shot or two from a slight distance. This is one of mine:
When I come to edit my pictures at home later on, I notice something. One of the girls is looking straight at me.
This unexpected and unsettling, and I nearly discard the picture. It makes me feel like I've intruded, as a voyeur would. Remember, it's a general shot of the students, not of this girl in particular, and yet here she is, looking directly at me with a challenge on her face. She seems to be saying, Who are you looking at? How dare you? What's your game? Although I see no connection between myself (thirty-one years into a career, and getting stale) and these young students (about to start their adult life), her accusing look and expression - and therefore the photo - seem worth preserving. It says something to me. I don't know quite what, but it's important. There's a message: that my life needs a fresh start. A fresh start as what?
I keep the photo and then look at it from time to time. What was that girl saying to me?
Let's jump forward to June 2006. Two years before my eureka moment. M--- and I are on the beach at Bude, with sunset coming on. There's a breeze, and a storm is brewing somewhere, but the light is really golden and there are interesting rocks to examine and photograph.
A group of three girls pass us on the beach, heading for the waves. They are not dressed for the sea, and only two of them are wearing the sort of waterproof jackets that the location and the weather demand. One has an incongruous hat on, and is carrying a handbag. She seems dressed up for an evening in town, and not for a windy walk across wet sand to whatever is going on at the shoreline.
I see that some boys are in the surf. These are the girlfriends then. They've come to watch. Or just to meet up and walk back with their boyfriends. And indeed, the girls end up standing in a group, while the guys splash shorewards as far as the shallows, but not yet onto dry sand. They are pretending they haven't noticed the girls, who wait patiently some way off in the very stiff breeze that's developed. It's a case of treat 'em mean and keep 'em keen, apparently.
Such dedication to love! I think there are two guys and three girls. Which one then, is the spare girl? Is it the one with the hat and handbag? Is she a visitor from an inland city, down for the week? Why am I so fascinated? Why do I remember the incident and keep the pictures?
Then, in August 2007, two more incidents, and this time I'm not merely curious, I'm shaken, and need a while to absorb the impact. First, two children at the shoreline at Birling Gap.
Brother and sister. Same age. Ying and yang. It screams to me: two aspects of the same person: myself. Look at their attitudes. The boy, watching the waves, relaxed and self-contained. The girl, eyes closed, face turned up, body stretched, not at all relaxed, leaning into the wind, fiercely alive. I feel lucky to have caught this on camera. It's one year ahead of my eureka moment. Of course I don't know that; I am still struggling with the old life; and it seems that I shall have to find a way of coping with it, for all of the long years that lie ahead. I do not want to see scenes like this, to remind me of what might have been.
And five days later, in sunny Horsham. A lively brass band is attracting an audience in the Carfax. M--- and I just happen to be there. I take a shot, framed on the left side by a woman who is watching the scene too.
There's something about her. I can't see her face, and never do because having taken the picture, I rejoin M---, and we wander off to a bookshop. Back at home editing, I look more closely.
Need I catalogue what I see? Nice hair, nice tan, off-the-shoulder top, bra strap showing, the waist, the hips, the big bottom, the bag, the way she's holding it, the stance. Not a teenager this time, she's thirtyish, a grown woman. This is hard to take. I imagine the Impossible. Then I file the picture away.
And now, in 2013, there's no need to imagine. I don't look anything at all like the persons shown above, but the old life has vanished, and the new one has more than a passing affinity with what these pictures contain. It does strike me as very strange that I managed to capture these pre-2008 moments, and preserved them, even though they represented a fantasy dream that at the time was completely unreal and quite beyond my reach.
I'm very glad I did though.