The Online Darkroom Store

Thursday, June 13

Photography and poetry

I wrote a poem about my dad a long time ago a couple of years before he died and thought I'd lost it. But it turned out to be hiding in amongst some medium format negatives that I'd filed away individually in 5x4 negative bags. I thought I'd post it here so that it would always be around - just in case I managed to lose track of it again. I have a vaguely-defined theory that the spirit world might be able to read the internet so who knows...*

There's a bit of a back-story to it. In the late 1960s, we had a two-tone green Riley 4/72 car and I absolutely loved it. For those of you who don't know a lot about cars, it was essentially the same as the Wolseley 16/60, the Morris Oxford and the Austin Cambridge. BMC liked to make the most of what it had and used one main platform to good effect.

A beautiful Riley similar to my dad's. Why are modern cars - most modern
 products, in fact - so soul-less in comparison?

I remember in particular one family holiday to Scarborough, a round trip of about six hundred miles, in the Riley, when I was an eight-year-old sliding around on its green leather seat in the rear and, no doubt, bouncing into my older brother, John. There was one episode which lasted quite a long time when it seemed my dad was following a Citroen. He pretended he was trying to catch it and would rev the engine occasionally for dramatic effect.

Anyway, fast-forward 30 years and there I was in a scrap yard in Dundee where there were a lot of old cars gently rotting away and looking quite sad. I was using a Mamiya Press at the time and decided to climb onto the back seats of some the cars and photograph what I could see looking towards the windscreen with a 65mm Sekor on the camera - equivalent to a 28mm in 35mm terms. One of them was a Morris Oxford and I realised that the last time I saw that view forward was when we were on the way back from Scarborough. At least, that was the last recollection I had of a journey in the Riley.

1964 Austin Cambridge A60
1967 Wolseley 16/60
1969 Mini 850
1968 Volkswagen Beetle

I welled up a bit as my dad's health was beginning to fail and I had a strong sense that he wouldn't be around for too much longer. It brought home to me just how brief our time on earth is and prompted me to write something. That poem was:

The View Forward

Eight years old,
Bare legs sticking to the cracked, green leather,
Unrestrained youth leaning forward,
Hands on the back of the front seats, urging,
"C'mon dad. He's getting away."
Dip of clutch, blip of throttle
"Now we'll get him, son."
Fatherly grin, family responsibility.
Then, later,
Stretched out on the rear bench seat,
Wallowing in softly-sprung suspension.
Holiday over, the journey home takes forever.

Tightly-packed, they are
Their doors unable to be opened - 
Except for the '64 Austin.
Not quite the Riley 4/72 but close enough:
Still with the leather
Still with the same view forward
From the rear.
Now, mildew dominates, dampness clings to the seats,
The carpets long since rotted away.
Brambles push up through the steering wheel,
Sunlight scatters on the crazed windscreen,
Filtering through trees in the scrapyard.

With a tear, I look forward,
My father old, decaying like the car.
I lean on the driver's seat but it tips back,
Broken at the base.
How small and cramped it all is now,
Shrivelled by three long decades.
Once new, it sits neglected, ignored
By all except those who remember
The view forward.

I made a few visits to the scrapyard in the following weeks and printed several letterbox format shots looking forward from the back. The scans of the prints are above. Then one day when I went back, the scrapyard was gone and construction work for a housing project was underway.

* There is no evidence at all beyond wishful thinking for this theory.


Omar Özenir said...

Those four views from the rear seat work together so well with the poem. I have always liked the idea of mixing words with pictures, and this is a very fine example indeed. Thanks.

Herman Sheephouse said...

Bruce - I have to say that that sequence is one of the best I have seen in many a year - really superb.
Photography and poetry mix well together - just look at Fay Godwin . .
Thought I should provide a comment just in case anyone thought I had popped my clogs.


Thanks Phil and Omar. I knew of another old scrapyard in the Angus countryside and went back there with the intention of doing some more back seat photography but it was gone. Just about everything old, abandoned and interesting has disappeared in the last ten years in this area.

However, I've found a great wee place that will be the subject of a post in due course.

Kevin Allan said...

The interior shots are outstanding. I remember my father having a brown/beige two-tone Morris Oxford when I was the same age.

Nick Jardine said...

Thanks Bruce,

Lovely shots and some fine words. I've similar memories to yourself, we had the Wolseley when I was a nipper. I remember the leather seats but my favourite was eating a fish supper on the plush fold down picnic tables in the back of the front seats.

When my father bought the car it was pretty old and it didn't last long, but the couple of summers we had out of it we had some great fun and brilliant memories.


I think the Wolseley was the poshest. Can't remember the Riley having picnic tables. I did have a Van Den Plas Princess 1300 that had them - lovely we car.

Eddie Butt said...

Bruce - What a really lovely set of images that added to the sentiment in the words.

Together with your story of finding the poem you thought you'd lost and the family memories it invoked - very strong!


Stefan Eisele said...

I found this post via the recent one you posted of the one picture of the car.
I absolutely love the series you displayed here! Thanks so much for sharing!