In front of a large fountain in Chicago, three of my friends pose for the camera. The large behemoth of a fountain rears up in the background, breaking the photograph in two: the brick façade with barely visible sheets of water cascading over it and my friends standing in front of it, and the concrete ground in front of the fountain, shiny with water and showing the reflections of my friends. The two friends on the outside fling their outside arms into the air and smile shamelessly for the sake of the camera, while the friend in the middle awkwardly positions herself, staring at a spot on the ground in front and to the left of her. The two friends on the left are physically pressed up against each other, while there is a huge gap between the middle friend and the friend on the right. The middle friend almost seems to be reaching for the friend on the right, trying to escape the closeness of the friend on the right. A small child in a green shirt wanders into the photo, arms held out to the sides to embrace the cool water on this hot afternoon.
The first time Matalon shows the wedding photo on page 61, she describes it in detail and at face value, writing only about what can be seen from the image itself and not projecting any family history into her description. It is only when she shows the photograph again on page 80 that Matalon bluntly tells the reader that the Sicourelles got married because Uncle Sicourelle didn’t want to get kicked out of the country for not having French citizenship, and Madame seems to regret the marriage. It was a hurried affair and Uncle Sicourelle didn’t even tell his family about it for two years.
My photograph also has a hidden history. I won’t go into as many details as Matalon does, but the leftmost friend and the friend in the middle hated each other in high school but have since developed an awkward, strained friendship after going to the same college. The leftmost friend was trying too hard to pretend to be good friends for the duration of our daytrip to Chicago this summer, while the friend on the right and the friend in the middle are best friends who hadn’t seen each other in several months and wanted to catch up. As a result of this competition for the middle friend’s attention, there was a strain on the whole trip that can be seen in this photograph.
Matalon was trying to do something very specific by showing the same photograph twice, and I am trying to do the same thing here. Despite her first description of the photo being completely face value, describing only things that were there, you can still see hints of the history that accompanies the photograph. Uncle Sicourelle’s big smile for the camera while his new wife looks at the ground in concern hints at the actual nature of the wedding going on, just as my middle friend’s awkward maneuverings between my other two friends hints at the strained competition going on that day. Matalon is showing the reader that photographs don’t lie. Despite the careful posing of the people of the photographs, there are traces of the true story that are visible even when no background knowledge is known.