Title: EARLY EXPOSURES: A Photographic Memoir
Author: Bill Pennell
Published by: Friesen Press, 2017

A memoir (from French: mémoire: memoria, meaning memory or reminiscence) is a collection of memories that an individual writes about moments or events, both public or private, that took place in the subject’s life. The assertions made in the work are understood to be factual.

CHARACTERISTICS OF THE MEMOIR. The voice is first person singular: I, not we, one, or you. The memoirist is the main character, the someone for readers to be within the story. The writer’s thoughts and feelings, reactions and reflections, are revealed.

Many will remember one of the most famous of all memoirs: a young boy got in trouble for some petty theft which bothered him so much that he later straightened himself out, converted to Christianity, and eventually became a bishop. The “I” of that memoir is brutally honest about his various troubles, relates his prolific sex life in detail, and proceeds to look inward to his “soul’s eye” where he caught a glimpse of “the immutable light higher than my mind.” That, of course, was Aurelius Augustinus or Saint Augustine in his book “Confessions”.

One internet source tells us that the memoir has the following properties:
• The voice is first person singular: I, not we, one, or you.
• The memoirist is the main character, the someone for readers to be within the story.
• The writer’s thoughts and feelings, reactions and reflections, are revealed.
• There’s enough context – background information – to understand the events of the story. The context is woven into the story.
• A reader can envision the action – can see what is happening.
• A reader can imagine the setting – where and when the memoir is unfolding.
• A reader can imagine the relationships between the characters.
• The dialogue sounds like these people talking, both what they would say and how they would say it: Boy, you’re going to be sorry versus You will be sorry.
• The place is slowed down so a reader can enter the story and live it, moment to moment, with the characters.
• There isn’t unnecessary information: the writer leaves out what a reader doesn’t need to know.
• The lead invites a reader into the world of the memory.
• The conclusion is deliberate: it represents a writer’s decision about hoe to leave his or her readers.
• The writer isn’t acting as a reporter: the writing is subjective, the writer’s truth.
• The writer invents details that fit with the specific memory and the writer’s theme or purpose.
• The memoir sounds and feels like literature and not reportage.
• The reader learns something about life by reading about a life.

Pennell’s book is rich, partly because, in addition to fulfilling the above characteristics of the genre, it also adds black and white photographs which were taken from the many locations at the times indicated by the text. It is the photographic record of a talented photographer who is now looking back on the places and persons depicted in the pictures. “Early Exposures: A Photographic Memoir chronicles the travels of photographer Bill Pennell to five exotic parts of the world: Wales, Borneo, Mauritius, the interior of British Columbia, and the Canadian West Coast. Remembering his journey through stunning black-and-white photography as well as colourful personal accounts, Pennell covers a ten-year period in his late twenties and early thirties: 1969 – 1979.”

It is a highly personal account of a young man journeying to many parts of the world with his cameras to “see” those places and to record the sights as he continues his education as a biologist. He travels by boat, car, train, bicycle, and foot to see these places in a way that is now gone forever. And he writes about those journeys in a clear and concise way – telling us about the places, the plants and the people that he meets on the way. The photographs are not simply added to the text but rather the text and the photographs work together to give the book its life and vitality.
In the last paragraph of the epilogue, Pennell writes:

As we age, we often become more cautious, and our society is becoming increasingly risk averse. As I have revisited these early memories of my adventures, I stand somewhat amazed that I was so apparently fearless; spending days by myself on a giant mountain, travelling up the Rajang River in dugout canoes, or along tropical coasts in small freight boats, by myself, far from any communication. I suppose this was just youth in all its glory.

So, if you are like me, get out a map, so you will know where you are visiting as you go around the world and back in time with Dr. Bill Pennell.

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  1. Pingback: Invitation | Episyllogism

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