Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Eryl, a portrait

Eryl died last year. September 4th. The cancer that was thought/hoped to have been eradicated in 2007 came back and mercilessly took her in what was an unseemly and unwarranted haste.
Kierkegaard said “It is perfectly true, as philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards. And if one thinks over that proposition it becomes more and more evident that life can never be really understood in time simply because at no particular moment can I find the necessary resting-place from which to understand it – backwards.”
Well Soren, someone else can! This is a portrait of Eryl using photographs that I have taken over years (all except one photograph); starting with the last photograph that I had taken of her, that she expressed she really liked.
I have discussed this many times before, about the "air" the "essence" of the sitter and whether a single photograph can deliver same. Whether this has achieved it or not is not for me to say, but the fact that Eryl said it captured her and that Maurice therefore wanted it at her funeral service and he wanted it hung in their house as a permanent reminder of a few months (six) before that light was extinguished is good enough for me. The portrait was one of a set I did for a "cast" shot to be used in a programme; I did these regularly for over twenty years and they were also used to decorate the Hall where we stage the group's productions and so I have a few of these to draw from.

Moving back in time I asked Eryl's daughter Carys, to supply her "Facebook" avatar that she currently uses as another reference. These two images "bookend" the portrait and the primary image introduces a central figure in Eryl's life, her daughter.

Here they are sitting for their portraits many years ago (I can't remember, this is film and I never thought about cataloguing my negatives in those days!). Like many children of the group Carys was often involved in the Pantomime which the group stages every two years. Carys is the same age as my son Mark and they went to the same school for all their schooling. Carys is an Occupational Therapist, which came in very handy when Eryl was in hospital.

A few years later the same couple, both seem more relaxed about the photograph, Carys perhaps a little more so!  Central is the role that Eryl made her own over the two and half decades, that of "The Good Fairy". Eryl and I shared a love of singing, but unfortunately we also shared the lack of a singing voice although we never let that condemn us to silence. One of my favourite stage moments is singing a duet with Carys about always looking on the bright side of life - on a similar vein to the Eric Idle song. We shall sing it together again soon at a commemorative evening celebrating Eryl's life.

There have been many events through the years we have known Eryl, and of course this portrait is my personal portrait, there must be many more as she revolved in a number of different circles. These two have her with her husband Maurice, the left at a friends 50th birthday party, long before the cancer was to strike for the first time and below at Alison's 50th party a year after it had struck. The treatment of course plays havoc with weight issues and Eryl fought that as well. And right at my half century.

Right is another aspect of Eryl. On stage during a production I made of Priestley's "When we are Married". I incorporated here surrounded by photographs of her with Maurice. Her character's marriage vows weren't under question, nor were they in life either.

And here she is lining up with hundreds of others in a "Race for Life, again about 18 moths after her first diagnosis. A tremendous "giver" she was very active in various charities and organisations. On the right giving a helping shoulder for Carys. Below celebrating with Carys and two friends. The left half of this photograph had both been touched by breast cancer at this stage, Alison some years before and so its recurrence in Eryl has sent shivers down our spines.

Eryl went to university in Keale and trained as a teacher, she moved to our village soon after Carys was born. After the cancer struck the first time there were changes and difficulties at the school where she worked and so she decided to have a change. Cancer seems to do this people, it changes their perspective of life and whilst Eryl remained as Supply teacher she retrained as a registrar. Left shows Carys at the centre of their life.
Thessa, the daughter of one of our closest friends wanted Eryl to perform the service at her wedding to Jim. Eryl was naturally quite proud and I wanted to get a shot of her performing the act of betrothal, capturing Thessa, her father to her left, Jim and the best man at an open air ceremony. The next shot is at the next day party playing croquet on the bride's parents lawn. It was late June, within 10 weeks of these last two pictures being taken Eryl had passed away.

Eryl had a faith, she belonged to the Woodstock Methodist chapel, but when the funeral arrangements were being made it was clear that this wasn't ever going to be big enough. St Mary's was then commandeered and even this large old church was filled to the brim with well wishers. She is missed. To conclude this tribute with photographs to Eryl I thought I would append the piece with a poem written by the author of all the Panto's that Eryl was a Fairy in. The photographs were all by me. There were five verse's and there were five of us who stood and orated. I delivered the last one.


  1. Very touching...and clearly dear to your heart...I'm sure she will remain a guiding light in your lives.

  2. What a wonderful tribute. For me your first picture catches a definite sense of person - I feel that I would know her immediately if I met her. Of course sometimes such feelings can be illusory but the evidence from Eryl and those who knew her suggests otherwise. I don't believe one picture can ever say it all: there is always some element of simplifcation. However some can be very resonant and Like you I feel compelled to keep trying.

  3. Thanks Penny and Eileen. I checked with both Maurice and Carys after posting who both said they were happy with the content (Carys posted a link to it on her "facebook wall, which I suppose is an endorsement?).