an important photograph

By 18/06/2009photography

In the 1970’s I made several trips to the south of France where I met a friend of mine who studied there. I also stayed there with French gypsies who I  had met. They were Sinti from Marseille, mostly musicians, amongst whom Joseph Reinhardt, the brother of the famous Django, was the best known. I also met some lesser known people like Kiri, a man of small posture, and his family. After I had returned from this trip, my friend from Marseille wrote me that Kiri had contacted him and he told the sad story: a tragic accident had happened when he had run over his little boy of some eight years old in backing up the car at the very moment the kid was behind him, where he could not see him. When his youngest son died, the father was in shock and the whole encampment panicked. After the funeral the father realized they did not even have one single photograph of the kid, unless the photographer who had visited them would have one. So the question was passed on for me to look at my photographs, and search for a glimpse of the little boy that was so tragically killed.

Amongst the many photographs of that period I found only one, that had the gypsy boy on the very right edge of the picture, running as he always was. I made an enlargement; it was a bit blurred, but I had no choice and the kid was recognizable. Later I heard that the father was happy but very emotional when my friend gave him the photograph that I had sent. He barely looked at it because he said “it hurt too much”, folded it twice and put it in his wallet “for later”. I have never met Kiri or his family since, but this has made me realize that there’s more than one meaning to the phrase I so often use: “an important photograph”. Photographs are part of our personal and collective memory.