As someone with a keen interest in photography – and its history – I’m saddened by the news that Kodak has been forced to file for bankruptcy. Producing the first film on rolls (1883), giving the world the first consumer camera (1880); with its pocket-folding camera (1897) it made photography portable, and, with the launch of the Brownie (1900), it brought it -potentially, at least – to the masses.
This is an extract from my novel I Stopped Time, in which the reclusive Sir James Hastings discovers his estranged mother, Lottie, through her photographic collection. In this scene, Lottie enters Mr Parker’s Photographic Studio for the first time.
I found Mr Parker bent low over his ledger in the front office. He had mistakenly left the curtain adrift, revealing a pencil-thin
strip of the Aladdin’s cave beyond. My feet inched nearer. Closing one eye, I could see into a darkened room filled with curiosities:
a palm tree in a painted terracotta pot; a writing desk complete with inkpot and quill; silver candlesticks…
“Take a look if you’d like,” Mr Parker murmured absently.
Ducking between the velvet drapes, I took my first intoxicated steps. As I trailed the palm of my hand over every tactile
object, my eyes became accustomed to the mothball-scented gloom: a bearskin rug, head and full set of yellowed teeth intact; a
motorcycle with a pair of goggles looped around the handlebars; a feathered fan which, I pondered, must have left several
peacocks entirely bald; an elegantly tasselled chaise longue which seemed to have been designed specifically for damsels in
distress to fall into a faint onto; a Chinese screen painted with lotus flowers and birds; an arch covered in silk roses; pillars covered
with Egyptian hieroglyphs; one stiffly stuffed Labrador with black marbles for eyes; an irresistibly broad-brimmed hat.
The flick of a light switch caused me to leap out of my skin: “Why don’t you try it? You’ll find a mirror behind the screen.”
I blinked up at him, shaking my head.
“No? Something else, then.” He turned to the least exotic-looking object in the room: a plain black box on a tripod with a
lens at the front. “Do you know what this is?”
Disappearing underneath a black shroud, he adjusted the height of the box, bringing the viewfinder down to my eye-level.
Holding up the veil, he commanded, “Look through here and tell me what you can see.”
I caught my breath, stood back in wonder, and looked for a second time: “Everything! I can see everything!”
“This…” He might have winked. “…is my time machine.”
“It’s a camera,” I insisted.
“No, no.” He shook his head, absolutely serious. “It’s my eye that sees the image. That should mean I’m the camera. This is
simply the device that allows me to stop time.”
Too old to be teased, I folded my arms tightly across my chest. “That’s not magic. It’s science.”
“Who taught you to be so cynical? You’ll never convince me what I do isn’t magic. All I need is light, chemicals and a little
patience.” His disappointment in my inability to appreciate this was evident.
“Why would you want to stop time?”
“Now that is an intelligent question!” Mr Parker pressed both index fingers to his lips as if in prayer and, averting his gaze,
paced for a few heavy steps. When he turned back I detected a darkness in his eyes that had not been present before. “Can you
think of a really good memory? Perhaps you can see it when you close your eyes. Now think how much better it would be if you
could take it out and look at whenever you wanted to.”
The advantage was immediately obvious: I nodded.
“And if I’m really lucky – if I’m there at just the right moment – I might capture something astonishing. The birth of a new
century. A world on the brink of change.”
“Would you explain to me how it’s done?” I asked.
He turned to me, eyebrows raised in surprise. “Does this mean you’re willing to keep an open mind?”
I nodded enthusiastically.
“Then let me start with a curious fact. The camera was invented long before photography. How about that! Even before
Christ, man had discovered how to project the image of an outside scene into a darkened room by allowing sunlight to shine
through a small hole.”
Early memories were yawning somewhere in my mind. Light dancing on the surface of the water, sparkling, mesmerising.
No – that wasn’t what he was describing. I dug deeper: light dancing on a wall. “I’ve seen it!”
Hands on thighs, he asked, “You have?”
I closed my eyes. “It was the opposite of a shadow.”
“Instead of dark on light, it was light on dark. And the light was moving – as if it was in a great hurry.” I held up my hands
and rippled the tips of my fingers to show him.
He mirrored my gesture, nodding. “Flickering. Like a moving picture.”
“That’s it! I thought it was an angel, but Daddy said the light had seagulls and clouds in it, so really we had seagulls and
clouds reflected in rectangles of shop window.”
“So I don’t need to start at the beginning. You already understand about light.”