“What can the England of 1940 have in common with the England of 1840? But then, what have you in common with the child of five whose photograph your mother keeps on the mantelpiece? Nothing, except you happen to be the same person.” (George Orwell, 1941)
This photo of me beside a statue of Paul Cezanne was taken two months ago in Aix en Provence, Cezanne’s home for most of his life. I was there doing research for a new play about the brilliant painter. Shortly after returning home I stumbled across another photo that was taken around 1985; that’s me beside a statue of the novelist Thomas Hardy, in his home town of Dorchester, in southern England.
Besides my presence, these two photos have in common that the artists are dead. The great French painter and British writer were born one year apart: Cezanne 1839-1906, Hardy 1840-1928. Hardy lived long enough to witness World War One, a horror that did not improve his instinctive pessimism. Through their art Cezanne and Hardy achieved a sort of immortality. No small accomplishment there.
Seeing these two photos together gave me a shiver that old photos have the power to deliver. I look so young 25 years ago. And my next thought was that I likely won’t be around to photograph when another 25 years have lapsed. Then my probable condition will be, as Shakespeare puts it in As You Like It, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything. (Even though we may not like it.)
Time. Just try to stop it.