When my friend Barbara heard a description of this photograph of a friend’s aunt taken when the aunt was nine years old, sometime in the early 1950s near the town of Barrington, Nova Scotia, she was put strongly in mind of her own mother, who had grown up in Nova Scotia and who used to tell stories of catching fish when she was a girl. Barbara asked her friend to send her a copy of the photograph, and although she didn’t know the girl with the fish, whose name is Ola Coffin, and there is nothing in the landscape that might be identified as “Nova Scotian,” much that Barbara had known of her mother was confirmed for her in the image of the girl with the bare knees holding up a trout that she had caught on the way home from school.
As photographs grow old they evolve into artifacts of general memory: they await a moment in the future, such as this one with Barbara, that emerges from the photographic unconscious.
Last year a national newspaper sponsored a photography contest on the theme of “My Canada”: among the submissions were many photographs of men and boys holding up the fish that they had just caught. None of the submissions were photographs of women or girls holding up fish that they had caught.