I've included the first chapter of the book below for you to preview. In it, I talk about why I'm chose to write this book. I hope you enjoy it!
Behind the Image
They say picture is worth a thousand words. The story behind it, the emotions felt by both the subject and the photographer, all captured in a still image of that single moment. Sometimes, the story is hard to read. Other times, it’s painfully obvious. Still other times, the story is told through several different images, all put together.
The last kind of the story is the one told by my grandparent’s stairwell. In 1972, shortly after the birth of their first child, my grandparents moved into a three storey house in Saskatoon, overlooking the South Saskatchewan river. The year after, they started taking annual family portraits, a tradition that our family still donors to this day. These portraits now line the walls of the staircase, beginning on the main floor and going all the way up to the attic. There are photos there of my grandparents at the high school where they met, from the year they were engaged, from their wedding. The story continues with the addition of three more children, and of them growing up. There are four more wedding photos, one of each child. The photos document the growth of the family as the grandchildren are born, until finally, in the 2010 photo, there are 21 of us all smiling for the camera.
But the photos also show hints of sadness, such as the one taken with the whole family dressed in black and holding roses, taken a few hours after my great-grandfather’s funeral. Another photo shows everyone gathered around the headstone of the grandchild who died shortly after birth. Or the series of photos from 2009 to 2012.
In the 2009 photo, my little brother is smiling big, his almost-white blond hair shining in the sun. The next year, the hair is gone and replaced with a black toque, with the words ‘Little Bald Angels’ (although the words are hidden in that picture). The hat is gone in the next picture, and his hair is back, darker this time. Then, in 2012, my brother is gone.
Other photos of him stick out in my mind. In one, he’s about 4 years old, and his face is covered in chocolate ice cream. That one was taken by my grandpa on a trip to the ice cream shop a few minutes away from their summer cabin. In another, he’s fast asleep facedown in a pile of picture books. My mom took that one after finding him on the floor in our family room, where he had been reading. He was younger than five. A picture taken on a trip to California when he was nine, standing in the ocean, clothes soaked, staring at the horizon. One with his smooth bald head and his leather aviator jacket, a LEGO model of a Star Wars ship on the table in front of him. That was taken by a professional photographer during a family session when he was eight. A closeup of his head, resting on his crossed arms, his bulky beige winter jacket surrounding him, his face lit up with a giant smile. Taken by a reporter to go with an article in our local newspaper.
Those photos mean all the more to me now. They are like windows into the past, retelling the story of my brother’s life, and my life with him. Each one reminds me of his unending energy, his wild-eyed excitement, his intense love for books and LEGO, his stubborn perseverance when it came to seemingly impossible video game levels. I remember how he laughed, either sounding like a machine gun or like Woody Woodpecker. I remember how passionately he would tell his stories to anyone who would listen. I remember how his smile would light up the room.
But the story isn’t always happy. The photographs also tell about the hospital stays, the long hours in treatment, the adverse side effects. The loss of his hair, his damaged immune system, the chemo-induced nausea. The weekly ritual of changing the dressing around the PICC line in his arm, the nightly ritual of flushing that line with saline and heparin. The sulphuric smell of the drugs he was on. The month that he spent in his room, to weak and tired to get out of bed.
The night he died.
But as much as pictures tell a story, they often need help. They need a voice to speak the words. And that’s what I want to do. I want to tell the story of my little brother, the battle that he bravely fought, and the people whose lives he touched.I want to tell the story behind the image.