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Saying a Photograph: Film Still from a Video Cassette over a Decade Ago



In the summer of 2021, my mother delivered me a video cassette. She said it was a video of my kindergarten days, and asked me if I could convert it into digital so she could watch it without the recorder. The video is over 40 minutes. I watched it intermittently, but so far haven't been able to finish it at one time. The reluctance is similar to the unwillingness of looking at a self-portrait. At 19 minutes and 38 seconds, a frame suddenly attracted me (while watching a video, occasionally, we will be caught by an unpredictable frame, and eager to pause and observe it carefully. This has nothing to do with the color and composition of the image, the quality of the film or the director's intention. It is obscure, but not metaphorical. It is only relevant to the viewer him/herself). I printed this image out to analyze the reason it appealed to me, as if analyze myself.





I remember the time that I asked my parents to play outside with me was always during the hottest hours of the day: two or three after nap, or around ten or eleven as shown in this image. The playground was almost empty, only filled with intense heat, sunshine and moisture. Compared with comfort of the weather, not sharing the playground with other kids was more important to me, as it avoided all possible encounters. At that time, I would rather run a hundred meters to pick up the tennis ball, rather than ask people near it for help and thank them. I don't think it has anything to do with dignity, but time transforms unconscious behavior—which often reveals characters—into habits. If it is not corrected sooner, it becomes more stubborn, finally making it impossible for us to do things that are extremely easy (also reasonable) for others, just as I have never called (and never seem to be able to call) my father “dad” in person, even though we had a harmonious family. Father never bothered with the time I requested (more like demanded) to play, and mother always said us "stupid": "Look at the playground, who else is running wild like you at three in the afternoon?" But she still went out with us most of the time, only that while we were playing tennis, she would take a walk alone around the lake.





Sometimes the ball fell into the small artificial lake next to the playground, and it would take us ten more minutes to get it back. Father would throw small stones into the lake, letting ripples and breeze to swing the ball to the edge. I am now looking at this image, and suddenly realize that this habit seems to be connected 

to an old convention of “Pinch and Scrape". Now I will never spend more than ten minutes looking for a ball, it does not cost much for another pack anyway. We seem to be losing the joy of searching and waiting, as nowadays we only look for things are of great value, and feel anxious if we do not find them in the end. For things that can be replaced easily, we do not want to waste our precious time. But how precious is this "precious time"? (We focus too much on the purpose of an action and miss the opportunity to enjoy the action itself.) Compared to me, who was anxiously waiting for the ball to come ashore, mom might just be in a good mood: Breeze subtly caresses the surface, something funny is happening by the lake. If the ball got lost into the reeds, she would not be annoyed at all: “Let’s buy another pack the next time.” But I didn't buy it a few times. She never stocked a few more. 





Speaking of “Pinch and Scrape”: A week ago, Joan told me a story of her grandmother’s “hoarding" habit, saying that her grandmother felt reluctant to throw away even the used plastic bags, would fold them neatly into a pile. My mother had the similar habit. Besides, she also inherited another habit from her mother: when someone brought her a box of apples, she always ate the bad ones first. In her theory, if we eat the good ones first, the bad apples will later be too rotten to eat. I said: “Then the good ones will turn to bad ones, so you won’t have even one good one.” She was reluctant to throw away any apples, always saying that the living condition in the past time was so difficult. To have something to eat was already a fortune, and how could she care about the taste? “But what does this have to do with the current life? It's not that you can’t afford to buy good apples now." Every time I asked her, she hesitated, prevaricated with words like “diligence”, “thrift”, etc. but as time went by, she became less insistent. Finally one day, when she received two other boxes of apples that my grandparents could not finish, she admitted that I was right, and started with a crisp and shining one. I guess she got tired herself. But every now and then, I can still find her eating some bad fruit that I would throw away. I can hardly tell whether this behavior is out of love: she wants to leave the good ones for me; or after half of the lifetime, it is hard to tell the difference of tastes; or just like after decades of being used, the white wiping cloth has turned yellow and cannot be washed to its original color, even with the strongest detergent. In short, this habit, despite being challenged, still remains, and occasionally appears, as if through it we can glimpse into the past. At the same time, my mother also influences me. I can not analyze meticulously which of my behaviors bear the shadow of the previous generation, but it must remain more or less. However, I am the one who always picks the best fruit, and the habit of finding the flown away tennis balls has also been almost devastated by laziness and consumerism. I recall these things, thinking that the next time the ball rolls down the hill or flies into the grass at night, I will pick it up no matter what.




I thought the above is all that I could get from this photograph, but I can not stop thinking about it and want to look at it over and over again. There seems to be something else I ignored. Finally, I can no longer bear this feeling and scrutinize it again, and this time my vision is caught by the frog sculpture in the middle of the lake. Its opposite (outside of the photo) sit another one, similarly, holding a microphone with its mouth wide open. I realize that during my one-year living in the United States, I have rarely seen this kind of sculpture. Walking in the cities here, what come into view are mostly clear and saturated color blocks, together with infinite horizontal and vertical lines. This kind of sculpture will destroy the integrity of the urban landscape. Even if I see them (excluding art galleries or sculpture gardens), they are either symbols of region/district, or carry some history or anecdotes, or are created by contemporary artists who express ideas in a somehow ridiculous form. For sculptures like frogs, perhaps the only meaning of their existence is for kids to play with. As I grew older, I despised this type of sculpture even more, thinking that they were neither “artistic" nor “natural”. I remember three years ago, when two of my friends came to Dalian (my hometown), we stopped by Lvshun. After we got out of the old, abandoned Russian-style train station, we continued to walk along the main street. A few steps later, Liu Shengdi said it was too dazzling to walk toward the sun and suggested to turn back. Though the sky was cloudless, the spring smog rose, and the dust in the air seems able to be smelled. We slowly wandered to an iron gate, inside of which was a coast made of granite. The shops were displayed in two rows, with a narrow passageway in the middle. At the entrance of the gate sit a pearl shell sculpture. The shell, hard to say whether it was because of dust accumulation or heavy wear, even the sunshine reflected from it seemed gloomy. The inside of the half-open mouth had some stiffly bent strips, and it was difficult to tell whether there were the brackets or the light tubes without taking a close look. In short, it looked dead, and died so painfully that it couldn't even close its mouth. I caught a glimpse of it (like a glimpse of an abandoned chair by the trash can, not too horrible to look at, but not enough to attract our attention), and I instantly recalled when I first came to Lvshun over ten years ago, it was already there. it was in its best time then: new, shining, and there were tourists asking their children to stand by it and take pictures. Zhuang Wanli pointed at the pearl (without slowing down his steps) and said, "What is this... (this city) is done". After a three-hour revisit, I would not even deny it. But when I look at this photo, thinking that they are gradually becoming something that belong to the “past”, and that it is hard for me to see them here, I start to miss them again.



After writing this down, I think it is the time to stop, feeling that the work for the present has been finished. However, sometime later when I see this image again, I may want to say something more. It seems we can never say a photograph to its end.


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