Yesterday I went to the post office to collect a parcel. At the counter I looked at the flip side of the parcel pick up notice and saw that there were three to collect. The two unexpected parcels were from Apple Mac. They were photo albums compiled by Simon. The photo albums remain the only contested item in our separation after 18 years together.
Simon took on the role of family photographer. He documented, sometimes annoyingly, every event over the time we were together. He spent hours fixing the photographs into albums. When we separated, there were, from memory, at least 10 volumes.
Elena in particular loved looking through them. They documented almost her entire life up until then. When we separated and packed up our house, Elena argued that we should put the photos in our boxes. She argued that they were all of her; that her life was in those books. Knowing this would cause a problem, I suggested she tag the photos she wanted and we would sort it out later.
Simon argued that he took them therefore they were his. We argued, that they were all of us therefore they were ours. He had them and there was not much we could do.
First he sent CDs with scanned copies of the photos, but scanned images on a CD were no substitute for flipping through the albums. Yesterday he sent Apple books. It was clear that he had spent hours compiling them and the production by Apple was not cheap. My first thought was to send them back, then, I thought they were better than nothing, the books would do. But they won’t. My memories are of photo albums with stuck in photos under protective plastic, photos missing where the girls have removed one or two for school projects, with short annotations on the side, who, what, where, and when. The books have tidied up, and distorted the way I remember things.
The problem was that Simon had given the books a title: The Adams’ Photos. Then he wrote a descriptive foreword about how they were photos that he had taken of our family over the time that we were together. He wrote on the front cover that he was the Author. What I was looking at was not a representation of our lives but his representation and his edit of our lives. There were more pictures. The ones he selected reminded me of others. There was a large picture of me in bikinis I bought on a trip to Bali. I would never have selected this picture; pictures of my niece’s parents-in-law from a marriage that ended 10 years ago. Another picture that I would not have selected. The photos in the book reminded me of our house, parties, dinners, celebrations, school events, my open water swims, my friends, my sister’s visits from America, Christmas at the farm, my dogs, my parents when they weren’t frail and my mum before dementia.
The rational person in me knows that his work was an act of kindness and his narration was putting his stamp on the books as their proud compiler. The emotional side of me was angry. When I met Simon, the photo albums that he compiled of his first wife and their life together were stashed in boxes in our attic. I know that he has boxes of the photo albums of us stored out of site somewhere and this is about power.
The books made me sad.
Today, I had one last try for the original albums. I sent an email offering thanks and saying how I appreciated the effort he had gone to. “But it’s just not the same,” I wrote. “Could we borrow the albums for a month so that we can select and copy the photos we want?”
Finally he agreed. And like arrangements made between hostile parents for an access visit of a young child, he asked me to get my daughter to make arrangements with him to pick them up.