I have to admit now, that even though my wife and I have left Svaneti for the second winter in a row, with our house empty for the first such time, an image remains from there burned into my consciousness. It’s that picture of Death, as a huge angry skull, which appeared to me for a few days mid-September in light snow, on the “mountain wall” overlooking Etseri from the other side of the Enguri river.
People either see it straight away when I show them the photo, or “get it” when I point out the skull’s features. I suppose this depends on the degree to which each viewer is afflicted, as I am, with pareidolia, the seeing of such figures in nature’s random places. Clouds, shadows, rust and the like.
But I… can hardly look away.
I’ve already found Death a place in two of my short stories on Svaneti which arise from my photos. He may make other appearances too. But I confess that I have to be careful to whom I show the photo. It’s not exactly the most appealing thing anyone wants to be shown, the most beautiful, though awesome it may be. It is Death, after all.
“Hey, want to see my photo of the face of Death?”
“Er, wow, look at the time! Must dash… I have a thing to do…” Swish of air as the cornered person makes good their escape at speed. Have I brought trauma? Fear? Concern? Can they dare to admit being both fascinated and repelled by my offer?
Do I sound obsessed, I wonder, or deranged? Hard for me to judge from the inside. I do feel that I have been entrusted with a rare image, polarizing, beautiful if terrifying, and must steward it carefully. I had never seen it in 12 winters in Svaneti until it showed up last month. It may never appear again, or may recur every autumn: time will tell.
As for the concept of Death… I’m aware that it’s an elephant in the room, present for all of us in potential but something we are loath to point out. Maybe if we ignore it it’ll go away, or at least shrink a bit, and we can breathe a little easier? No such luck, I think. It’s here to stay, for the foreseeable future, until we can all take a big dose of sci-fi and upload our consciousnesses into quantum computers. Which, even then, who knows if the resulting copy will even be me?!
I digress. Death, the skull, monstrous, has visited me and allowed himself to be captured on film, not your average unprovable UFO or psychic phenomenon or haunting or whatever, but something I have photographed for posterity. (And maybe for printed posters too.) What on earth do I DO with him?
I hope that the remaining images which come to my ever-vigilant eye will be kinder, more gentle and less malevolent, but I am not guaranteed the fulfilling of this wish. Until now, my story-inspiring photos have all been of this more benevolent kind, to inspire awe perhaps, but no terror. The story collection will continue to grow as they parade themselves before me, however. In the meantime, I can only watch, and wait.