It’s often easy to forget that the past and future exist at the same time as the present. After all, the actions we have chosen to perform in the past all give rise to the actions we perform in the present, and we act in the present with the intent of changing our future. The three are intertwined in a way such that it is impossible to wrest one away from the other two, but, grounded as we are in a single time and place, it can be difficult to remember the possible actions that once existed in the past and the possibilities that still exist in the future. This photograph, however, is a study in possibility – in the changes that result from an event being shifted to the past or the future – and even shows that, in rare cases, past and future are wound so closely around each other that one cannot discern which is which.
The focal point of this photo, in my opinion, lies in the junction of past and future, because this junction is what makes the photo interesting. This focal point is therefore not the girl herself, and consists instead of the hands reaching up to her and the golden disks around her neck. These two subjects of the photograph are the agents of possibility, so to speak; the aspects that cause one to inquire about the girl’s past or future, depending on how one chooses to look at it. Are the hands descending to remove the necklace, or have they just finished lowering it around the girl’s neck? The moment captured in the photograph seems like it could go either way, and viewers are left uncertain as to the exact impact that the necklace and the hands are having on the girl. Are they symbols of an event yet to come in which the girl must play an important role, or is the event over and the hands are reaching out to relieve her of her the burdens on her shoulders, both of the necklace and of responsibility? Is she nervous about what is to come, or worried that she has failed in some way? Both of these options can explain the girl’s pensive, distant stare, and it is this that makes this picture so captivating: we see an emotion but are not presented with the cause of it.
Emphasis of the focal point has been achieved by the centring of the hands that frame the girl’s body, as well as by the darkened background against which the girl’s red outfit and golden jewellery provide a stark contrast. Of course, the centring of the girl’s clothes and jewels is presumably intentional; we are meant to wonder what this outfit is for, and what role this girl is fulfilling. There is therefore a cultural aspect to his photograph as well: the girl is probably being prepared – or, as aforementioned, has just finished participating in – a ceremony that is specific to her culture, a ceremony that we, the viewers, are likely to know nothing about. This provokes additional curiosity and interest in the photo.
This photograph exists through multiple layers of time, possibility, and cultural value, and requires introspection in order to understand it. Even so, there is no definite answer to the question of what is taking place. It must remain a mystery to everyone but the photographer and the photo’s subject… as some of the best photographs often do.