Family in the Frame
One of my favourite pictures is a black and white photograph by Emmet Gowin that shows two children, a boy and a girl, entwined in short grass. The boy straddles her, but is collapsed forwards so that they are chest to chest and ear to ear. He is topless, wearing only a pair of dark denim shorts. The curve of his neck traces the line of her jaw, while the fingers of her right hand rest lightly on the opposite side of his neck, the index finger on the back of his left ear, the little finger against his shoulder. She is wearing a white hairband and a few strands of dark hair have escaped across her forehead, stopping just short of her closed eyes. Blades of grass stick to his white back and limbs, and also to her thighs and calves. The dark and angular texture of the grass that surrounds them rhymes with his straw like hair, but contrasts with the soft, pale skin of their childish bodies.
I see an almost transcendent peace and abandonment in their repose; from her beatific expression, eyes closed, lips parted; to his surrender to gravity. However, it is the pull between tension and tranquility that elevates this image for me. Below the bliss, there is a sense that this scene is the result of something more dynamic, more aggressive. Their bodies suggest relaxation but also exhaustion, perhaps the result of a ferocious bout? Are they submerged in an embrace or are we looking at the victor pinning the vanquished? Her right hand lies so delicately against his skin, keeping him close; yet literally on the other hand, her left arm is pinned uncomfortably under his body, her left hand awkwardly trying to free itself at his hip. His left hand is balled into a fist, seemingly grasping the grass at her elbow; but is he pushing against the ground to lessen her discomfort at his weight, or is he pulling himself down, the better to hold her in place?