The only exhibit in the gallery is a single one-metre square monochrome photograph of an ancient broad-leaved wood. Hollis is not alone. Morning, he says to an elderly woman standing in the far corner of the gallery. He wants to laugh at the way she’s dressed. Just like a bloody useless old hippy, he thinks. All flares, beads and flowers. She ignores him. Bloody rude, he thinks, Just as well she can’t hear what I’m thinking.
It’s you who’s rude, the woman says. Laughing at me says a lot about your prejudices. You think you understand everything as long as it fits your beliefs. What do you know about photography? What do you see in this photograph?
Basic stuff. In photographs, time stands still and what we see now is obviously from the past. That right? She nods. In this one it’s kinda confusing cos the images are both sharp and blurred. All the different blacks and whites, and the tones in between, make a great picture of a living wood. Then there are those mysterious holloways leading down through the wood. It’s all kind of magical and it’s almost like I’m there. Hollis asks, How can everything that is still seem to be in constant movement?
That was what I intended.
You took the photograph? He asks.
You sound surprised.
I just didn’t think … Hollis, embarrassed, stops.
Watch. The photograph slowly expands until it’s large enough for Hollis to step inside. You’re afraid.
I’m not afraid, Hollis lies. The beauty and mystery of the photograph quietens his anxiety. He steps inside. The woman chuckles. He stumbles. Terrified, he sees his feet entangled in a nest of vipers, their venomous mouths agape, frozen as the camera’s shutter closed. They aren’t real, he tells himself.
Escaping the vipers, he falls onto the right hand holloway and runs as fast as he can down the hill. There is no movement in the trees and bushes. Gasping for air, he finally realises that he’s not in a wood but in the photograph and there’s nothing beyond the images in which he stands; he’s nowhere. He reaches the end of the right hand holloway and starts up the left path praying that this will lead him back to where he entered the photograph and escape. His terror increases with every step, What if I’m trapped here forever?
He sees the empty gallery beyond the bushes. Heart pounding, he forces his way through the undergrowth and leaps forward, crashing onto the gallery floor. Both the photograph and the woman have gone.
Screaming, he runs out of the gallery to reception and tries to tell the staff what has happened. He’s assured that there was no exhibition, no photograph and no old hippy. Hysterically, he shouts, I’m telling the truth! He feels in his jacket pocket and removes a tiny, framed version of the photograph. At its centre, the laughing face of the old woman appears. Here she is, Hollis says, holding up an empty frame.
© Phil Cosker 2022
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.