On Photography, by Wendy Erskine, is the sixth release from the excellent Ration Books small press. This latest work introduces the reader to Frances, a young woman who has travelled to London for a brief visit to check in on her mother, a renowned photographer. Frances knows nothing of her father other than his name. Growing up she would watch as her brother, Denny, benefitted from the time he could spend with his father, although Denny also suffered from the upbringing their mother inflicted on them.
In fewer than fifty pages the author conjures a vivid and evocative life story. Before Frances’s mother gained attention and success, the family would move from place to place, living in cramped accommodation that prioritised the photographer’s work. Frances was often required to be the subject of her mother’s artistic endeavours, something the child did not feel comfortable with. When success came, it was still her work that retained the mother’s focus. Frances was offered no choice in what this meant for her.
Told from Frances’s perspective, the reader views each secondary character through her lens. The author is skilled, however, at granting them depth, carefully placed shadows revealing much more than is said. Although poignant in places, there are many injections of humour along the way. The couple Frances meets in a restaurant add an inspired splash of colour. The brief descriptions of her hotel room perfectly capture the quirks of the budget sector.
Although a short story, this little book provides the lingering satisfaction of a more standard length tale, exploring the nuances of a potentially damaging family relationship. The denouement in particular lifts what was a highly enjoyable read to the next level.
Erskine is, of course, a master at her craft and this is a fine addition to her impressive and growing oeuvre. Ration Books and their ilk are what pockets were made for.