How much do these images reveal? How much do these images conceal?
Why is my mother always to the left and why is my father always to the right?
Christiane was born right at the end of the Second World War. The doctors thought she would not survive and injected her with sea water in a bid to save her. It worked. Her parents were not married then, which was a big deal, especially in the countryside.
She initially wanted to be an English teacher but the family couldn’t afford to send both her and her brother to complete long studies. She became a primary school teacher and moved to the Parisian region. She loved her job. I used to help her prepare the festivities for the school party. It was quite fun and easy going. Most of the kids she was teaching to came from very modest backgrounds but every Christmas, we were literally overflowed with presents: chocolate, flowers etc. One time, a little girl jumped in her arms saying « Maitresse, look what I stole for you ».
Laurent is a bit younger. He was emancipated to take over the family business as his dad had fallen ill. He would have liked to be an architect. But he made road signs and painted road lines on motorways instead. Because I kept asking him about his job when I was little, one night, he took me to see the long white lines being painted on the long wide roads. It was all very strange. This endless road, all those lights, those machines, the workers. He was always working. A famous car brand was also employing him as a mystery customer. From time to time, he would drive around France, bringing his car to various garages affiliated to the company. When the car had been fully serviced, he would then write a report about how good the branch’s services were. This gave him an even better knowledge of the French roads.
Both my parents do not know for sure who really was one of their grandfather(my great grandfathers). Both are like ghosts of the past, buried under family’s secrecies.
The only trace of Christiane’s grandfather is an unsigned letter which revealed to Madeleine (Christiane’s mother), that the man who was raising her wasn’t her biological father. But she could never find out who that mystery man was. Everybody refused to talk about it. The only person who might have been willing to tell her the truth was the local priest. He called for her on his death bed. Madeleine jumped on her bike and cycled as quickly as she could. But when she arrived he was dead. She never found out.
We do know the name of Laurent’s grandfather but not much more. It is said that he abandoned his wife and children. Nobody could tell where he went or what happened to him. He was never mentioned. Today, I don’t even know for sure where he came from. Probably Armenia or Iran (many Armenians escaped the Turkish genocide by fleeing to Iran and then to France while changing their name).
How much of a product of our background are we? What to do with that legacy?
Christiane and Laurent plan to visit the north and south poles in the coming years.
(from the zine "Parental Leave", see some of the pictures in the section "recent work")
All content © Anne-Laure Franchette 2017