The laundry gets to me, its bright colors neatly arranged by size. French theorist Roland Barthes might have called it a “punctum.” That’s the heart-stopping detail in a photograph whose personal connection pierces you and holds you. And who doesn’t relate to laundry? But the “punctum” is not limited to photographs. To walk through these ruined households is to feel the same combination of dismay and recognition over and over again.
She looks like a young girl from a distance, her uncovered braid floating back and forth as she sweeps, hoists broken doors, and repeatedly crosses the wide expanse with a bucket to fetch water from a cistern. But when she pauses in her chores to interact briskly and anxiously with the men and boys, I see that her face is old. I wish I could show this narrow, taut face and its look of experience and concern, but photographs of girls and all but the oldest women are banned. Yet I know I am looking at the worry of a grown woman, of a mother for her children; it is not the face of a frightened child. In spite of the uncovered hair I still wonder if somehow I could be seeing the face of a woman who failed to grow. She is off again, so I settle on the expression “diminutive person” for now. Continue reading →