Couldabeen

Looking back on my life and all that it lacks reminds me of one Christmas over fifteen years ago, the summer before I started secondary school, because that was the Christmas that I got my first camera.

It was a second-hand Instamatic that Mum had found at a Garage Sale. It was one of many presents, and she’d apologised for it being ‘cheap and junky’. I also got a cassette player and a Walkman that year, which I wasn’t about to complain about, but the camera – that was the tool I needed to come to life. It was one Christmas present that wouldn’t be thrown in the junk heap on Boxing Day.

I stared at the camera, touched it, studied it. Couldn’t put it down. It was like the beginning of everything for me, I knew it somehow. Or at least, I thought I knew. They say first instincts are usually right. It doesn’t seem to be so with me.

My excruciatingly painful little brother would nick off with my pride and joy whenever I wasn’t looking, and would then proceed to waste a whole roll of film within twenty seconds just to annoy me. He’d take the first eight photos with flash just to rid me of my flash- cubes. I’d go to use one of the new ones I’d bought with my hard-earned pocket money, just to find that all sides of the cube looked like tiny smashed windows.

“Mum! Make him stop using my camera!” I would screech. Mum would say that I should be happy that he was taking an interest in something that I loved, and that maybe this could be something for Caleb and I to have in common.

He put on the whole Interested Act for Mum and she was naïve enough to think that he really was mad about photography just like his big sister. Little Caleb, liking my stuff just to spite me? Never!

That was fine, I’d play him at his own game. I decided to turn a negative into a positive, (no pun intended there) like Mum always taught us, and educate him on everything I knew about photography… and everything I knew was written on the inside of a film box. The rule of thirds, the placing-subject-off-centre rule and the fact that you should keep your subjects busy while taking their picture was all there.

Surely as porridge for breakfast on a Sunday morning, he became sick and tired of my self-righteous tutoring on a subject I knew, honestly, not much at all about. It was no longer funny for him to have me following him about with the camera like some kind of maniac. So then that was the end of that – I was rid of him! But not before wielding a bit of my talent for extortion. I told him that if he paid me five bucks I’d leave him alone (at least with all the camera stuff) forever. Being the curious young lass that I was, I spent Caleb’s matchie-car money on taking the films he’d so annoyingly wasted to the camera shop to get them processed.

Something terrible happened when I opened the envelope as I left the store where everyone knew me on a first-name basis. The terror of discovering that I was actually impressed with some of the pictures was too traumatic to withstand – not that I was going to let him know about it. He was already better than me at a hundred other things, and he knew it!

I took the smart route and picked on him for taking forty-eight photos on a twenty-four capacity film. Most of the shots were multi-exposures.

”Nice photo of Jeffrey,” I jibed, trying to convince myself that I was not envious of the eye he seemed to have for photography. “At least I know I’m the only photographer in the family!”
Oh by the way, Jeffrey was our female cat. The photo that Caleb had taken of our anti-tactile, tortoise-shell moggy looked very odd to me. Jeffrey was almost transparent in the photo. You could just make out a pair of shoes behind her, through her belly. The multi-exposure kind of freaked me out. Just looking at it made me feel uneasy. Knowing that that was a good thing as far as photography went, I wasn’t going to let anyone know.

My little brother Caleb screamed at me “I took the photos to make you angry, I wasn’t trying to be good!”

He went bright red, the way he always did when he was ever in danger of someone so much as hinting that he might be less than brilliant at something. Oh my, teasing him was so very enjoyable.
Until I got the scare of my life.
Three days after we got the photos back, it was the last day of Year Twelve for the graduates of Leonfeld High, and my Mum seemed to think that had something to do with the fate of our poor Jeffrey girl. She discovered her in our front gutter, dead as the proverbial doornail, with a boot over her head.

As well as being absolutely grief-stricken, I was monumentally spooked – Jeffrey had been transparent in the photo, like a feline ghost. And shoes had been present – sure they appeared to be in her belly in the photo, as opposed to the boot that had been so cruelly stuffed over her poor ill-fated head on that awful, awful day, but still… it had all been a bad omen, and a very disturbing one at that.

Ghostly cat photos.
Red and white sneakers.
An old smelly boot.
A dead cat.

I was sure I either had a warlock brother on my hands, or an evil camera in my ownership. In a macabre way, I was fascinated. I made Caleb take photos all the time after that, hoping he could predict more horrible things to come through his artfully morbid photos.

Being the sicko that he was, he became genuinely interested after that.
Nothing so spooky ever happened again, but he won lots of awards over the years. Not just in photography, mind you, but I won’t bore you with all that.

Meanwhile I was steered towards useful subjects that would lead me towards a good hearty career in Law or Medicine. Why couldn’t I have been born the talented, artistic, long-eye-lashed sibling? It wasn’t fair and it’s still not. Fifteen years later, and he’s a successful freelance photographer, slash psychic with his own shop and I’m… well, I’m his assistant part-time whilst studying Law at University. When really I don’t give a toss about polishing crystal balls or Law – I still want to be a photographer!

I mean, I guess I do, if it were a different world – a world where I could be even half as good as, or even better than my brother at photography.

Couldabeen

Michelle Rogers

Joined April 2007

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