A short e-mail brought the news, a resident at the home for mentally-handicapped adults where I volunteer had died. The sender sent me a picture of him – she knows I cannot put names to faces – and asked for any others I might have stored from the 10,000 taken by the “Paparazzi” in the last year.
I noted the passing and briefly thought of his family. I don’t know them; Oscar remained aloof during my times there. He would sometimes agree to pose for the Paparazzi. My main recollection was of a rather handsome man of my age or younger, dark hair, a small, pursed mouth, sitting away from everyone else. He would appear to recline, an arm thrown back, perhaps in repose or perhaps to keep a distance. Sometimes, when I gave in to a strong desire to photograph the residents, that reserved presence intrigued and saddened me.
In talking about Oscar’s death – circumstances as yet unknown – I mentioned to a friend a thought I was ashamed to voice; that his passing may come as a relief to his parents. I feel shame still – it’s what prompts these disconnected thoughts. In my time in the home I have witnessed the same, or wider, range of feelings and emotions and probably a greater depth than I can feel with my veneer of intelligence as a filter. So who am I to judge?
I wanted to make amends and went through thousands of images looking for Oscar. I’ve found eight so far. He looks sad, detached, on two occasions peeved. I wish I could remember him better than through such an intangible veil as digital images. I wish they offered more than fractions of a second; that they conveyed the feeling of being in his company, a feeling Oscar may not have appreciated or even shared, and that something of his, a fragile life, impaired and difficult but surely with its joys and richness, could survive.
Death of an unknown and unknowable man