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photographer at 16

A book recommendation for constructivist friends:  'The Photographer at Sixteen’ by George Szirtes is an extraordinary memoir of his mother  A deeply moving and often astonishing book, always questioning the position of the writer, and keenly attuned to the variety of possible interpretations of each aspect of her story.

'The trick is to invent the truth.”

Here, he paints a vivid picture of the life of his mother, constructed from his own and others’ memories and experiences, and from photographs, which were also at the core of her working life.

Like a film run in reverse, the story spools back in time from his family life with her in England to their arrival from Hungary in 1956, and back through her younger years as we fall into the dark and desperate history of 20C Europe. The first page describes, most beautifully, this process of the reverse conjuring of a life:

  the diver

This is a very personal and particular story, yet I also experienced it as posing many fascinating and necessary questions for all of us, about identity, history, belonging, choice, the stories we build, and the meaning of our lives - of any life.

"I am interested in her so I go on inventing her, inventing a truth I can believe in. I invent nothing factual. I don’t make it up, but the person at the core of it all still has to be constructed and understood in terms of invention. The trick is to invent the truth.”

(If buying books isn’t an option, do consider asking your library to buy one - they generally welcome good recommendations and requests, and I believe it is an important book for them to hold.)

 

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