What Stupefaction can do for Fiction: On Photography and Writing

Jatra, Poush Mela, Shantiniketan, India. Dec 23 2013.
This photo forms the basis of the opening scene of a short story I am currently working on. The story is also set in Shantiniketan.


It is dusk. Kishmish lies on a patch of grass and stares upwards, attracted to the dragonfly whizzing around his head, dipping into close proximity. For a moment, Kishmish freezes, the dragonfly juxtaposed with a flying aeroplane. And as the sound of the aeroplane diminishes into the distance, Kishmish leaps up, grabbing the dragonfly with both of his paws.

The above scene suspended in my mind – much like a photograph – as I watched my sister’s short haired orange tabby, secure within the fencing of my father’s backyard. Lately, I have been pondering about photographs as capsules of frozen time.

In Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes writes, “There is a kind of stupefaction in seeing a familiar being dressed differently.” Barthes writes this in the context of seeing a photo of his mother as a little girl, and finds that time collapses when he looks at the photograph after her death. In the same instance, his mother is both the little girl as well as his mother who passed away recently. He is essentially stupefied by this collapse of time.

Cenotaphs, Mandore Gardens, Jodhpur, India. Dec 28 2017.
These mid to late 18th century cenotaphs make an appearance in my short story “Toklas to your Stein” published in Humber Literary Review earlier this year.

In my practice as a fiction writer, I welcome this stupefaction. As a photographer, after I have captured an image on my camera, I feel an immediate connection to the image. Yet, when I revisit that image many weeks or months or even years down the line, I am able to see those images as separate from myself; as capsules of time to be mined for my writing. That’s when I cheat, a little, turning more and more to my photographs to collapse time, to jog my memories. And, I use those memories to write my stories.

This is Kishmish. In case you were wondering.

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