"September is the cruellest month". Not April, but September - the summer holidays are over, a new term begins and children move on to the next school year. "Shades of the prison house begin to close/Upon the growing boy" [or girl] as Wordsworth wrote in his Immortality ode.
Today, with wellies and a spare canoe in the back of the car, I ventured down to Keswick to see Deborah Parkin's exhibition entitled "September is the cruellest month". It's a beautifully presented exhibition with Deborah's black and white 4 x 5 photographs accompanied by "September Sonnets" (poems by Jennifer Copley, Antony Christie, Martyn Halsall, Kim Moore and Gill Nicholson). With the small size of the pictures
"You need to draw close, attempting to see faces
often masked by a dip of shadow."
Martyn Halsall "Drawing Close"
Deborah's photographs are all of her children and she sees pictures as a way of preserving memories of their childhood as they grow up and away from her. The black and white photographs look as if they could have been rescued from an old family album half a century or more ago when everyone's holiday pictures were monochrome. There's an otherness about the images that reminds me of L P Hartley's famous epigraph to The Go-Between - "The past is another country: they do things differently there".
Usually there is a single child and only once does the child show her face. She's standing on the edge of a rock pool and looks as it she's been playing there and is not happy about being made to stand still for the photograph. Don't you remember that feeling? That, to me, is part of the appeal of the exhibition. It is as if I am being reminded of my own childhood, even the clothes - the damp woolly layers worn in the snow, the summer dress worn with a cardigan because it's shivery weather.
Some of the poems are in the voice and imagination of a child. This is Gill Nicholson's "September Holidays":
"I find a fallen rotting log.
Along its bark I hold a tea party
with orange fungus cups on moss."
Jennifer Copley's "Skimming Stones" and "Grange Beach" both capture a sense of the child's relationship to the different generations of a family. The poems are small narratives, just as each picture creates its own small narrative. Martyn Halsall takes a step back and writes peoms about the exhibition itself in "The Hanging" and "Drawing Close".
Summer and winter, outdoors and indoors, water, woods, a child framed in a doorway. There's a dreamlike quality about this collection of images and the poems' dialogue with the pictures adds an extra dimension to the exhibition.
"I'm wishing time would stop" says the child in Gill Nicholson's "Rosehips" and I feel the same. Alas, the exhibition closes on 30 September. Get there if you can.