• Alba, 1867
• Hong Kong, 1897
• Marseille, 1900
• Valenciennes, 1918
• Buenos Aires, 1930
— Hm, I don’t know. I’m not sure. Where have you found it?
— In the big box, together with the others.
— It could be me… or maybe his sister…
— The sister of Georges?
— Not sure either, perhaps me. The photo is blurry, anyway.
— If it is you, you moved. I love the white sheet and the plank wall. I imagine your parents walking around in this fair in the North, in Valenciennes. By chance they pass by the photographer’s stall, you just started to walk, and they, proud of you, would like a photo.
— Do you think so?
— However, they do not really know how to do it. The adults sit on the stool in front of the sheet, the photographer tells them not to move, and he fixes their bust on a white fond.
— With the folds of the sheet… really a poor man’s photo!
— Yes, of course. Your father is close to the photographer, we do not see him, they, the men, discuss it among themselves – oh, how will we do… the child should not start to cry… she should not move… It’s your mother who wanted the photo, I guess, and now she is afraid that you would fall and she holds you firm.
— I just started to walk, you said.
— She probably wanted to release your hand and step back, but you did not yet stood safely on your feet. So she probably could not do better… Perhaps there was a second shot, a sharper one, which the photographer cut around and which is now lost. You see, like this, one would clearly see the hand holding you:
— Hm, not really, I don’t remember. And anyway, perhaps this is not me. If this is me, then I wonder why my mother is not in the picture, side by side with me. A photo where I’d be on my mother’s lap, you know? While there, in a photo from the captivity…
— They probably wanted a portrait of you, just you.
— Just me. In case they lose me.
— They had lost another child, right?
— Hm, hm. Or perhaps this is not my mother… but then, who? A neighbor? The nurse? Look: the nurse took me to the fair, she bought me a small bucket, we arrive at the photographer’s stall, and… Is there any picture of mine with my mother somewhere?
— Yes and no. Do you remember this document?
— Ah, the Ausweis — yes, of course. We, my mother and I, went to the Kommandatur, to have it prepared, one day after my twelfth birthday, in August 1918. My birthday Ausweis…
— And this, this is no ID photo.
— Well, there was war! First, the city was occupied. Then, from May 1918, Valenciennes was bombed: I have passed the high school entrance exam in a cellar, the planes flew over the city day and night, bombs were falling everywhere. Then, in September we saw the arrival of refugees from Douai and Cambrai. And when the Germans evacuated us in October, we always had to carry this card with ourselves.
— The front approached, we were thrown on the road, my mother and me. We walked towards Mons, Liège. In fact, nobody cared of being photographed at that time.
— And yet, one needed a photo for the card.
— We tinkered one, I guess.
— Look carefully: hidden under the rubber stamp, your left arm stretches out of the picture.
— Well, yes?
— In the box, there was also this picture of your mother.
— Pictures of my mother in this box? Together with my photos?
— Yes, one or two. This one, in a packet of blue embossed paper – yours are in the white packet of a studio from boulevard Montparnasse. Look.
— I see. A hand on her shoulder.
— Your hand on her shoulder. And the same blue stamp of the Kommandatur. Perhaps your papers were made on the same day?
— Oh no, she had her Ausweis for a long time. She had to cut the photo long before that. So my mother walked in Valenciennes with my hand in her Ausweis… Imagine that I die in that moment… under the bombs that fell on the city. My mother would have stayed with a little black claw on her white shirt. I would have remained her prisoner for eternity.
— She would have remained your prisoner for eternity. Are you still angry with her? After such a long time, now, that both of you are dead? Look, we can reconstruct the image without problem:
— Yes, I see, a studio photo. We both posed in front of a painted canvas, I put my hand on her shoulder, as the photographer asked me, we looked into the objective, none of us smiled – there was war – and then, then she cut our photo in two for the fucking papers. Just think about it, we posed for my father, to send a photo to my father.
— Your father?
— My father was prisoner somewhere in the East. And she cut the photo instead of sending it.
— Perhaps this is a double? Perhaps there was a first photo sent to your father, and another she cut in two for the Germans?
— Hm, really, I do not remember anything. I am so far away.