On Kipling, Being Sick, and Storytelling

As a child and a teenager, one of my favorite authors was Rudyard Kipling. I might have been about 14 the first time I read The Jungle Books, but I was surprised that Mowgli's story got sooooo boring to my teenage self after awhile. Then, pleasant surprise! Rikki-Tikki-Tavi was right the middle and was a refreshing break from my boredom. And it's the one story from that anthology that has stuck with me all these decades.


Later on, I couldn't resist buying a set of small, antique books of Kipling's short stories and poems, and I read through them all one year. Many of the stories told of the effects of unnamed and unidentified "fevers," very likely cholera, malaria, scarlet fever or yellow fever, and others common to the tropics. They seemed far away and exotic to my younger self. One poem described in length the battle of a young woman against one of these fevers and ended with her finally, after many days, beginning to get better. I didn't catch anything nearly that serious (probably just a cold that hung on for ages), but after three weeks and three negative Covid tests, I was beyond ready to start feeling better - and then I found out I had a bad sinus infection and had about another week to recover. Ugh! There went the entire month of May.


One aspect about Kipling's storytelling I appreciate is that I remember particular fragments of his writings vividly; I loved the way he described India although heat and humidity are most definitely not my thing. A notable description of sunrise sticks in my mind; he told of how it was already hot as the sky began to lighten, but then described how instantaneously the heat intensified as soon as the sun became visible on the horizon. I recall nothing else about the poem except that it was told from the viewpoint of a British soldier on watch, and might have been one of the Barrack-Room Ballads. Another short story, Beyond the Pale, was a powerful commentary on racism and the position of women in India at the time. I've found that certain bits of other stories and poems by Kipling have remained in my memory long after I've forgotten the titles or collections.

Photograph of a shadow falling across a barred window in a historic building found in the US Virgin Islands
Window Through Time

These little snippets of tales make me think of photography similarly. A photo is taken in a fraction of a measure of time and can have the ability to stick with a person long after they've moved on with their life. The story doesn't have to be long or complex or detailed; a brief glimpse can provide the viewer with a compelling memory -- and if the photo was good enough, perhaps even a mental story to go with it.


As one example, this image, Window Through Time, tells a great story for me. A number of years ago my husband and I visited the US Virgin Islands and toured historic Fort Christian, built in the 1670's. It was used to house the Danish militia of the time, it was the home and office of various governors of the island, and later on, was used as a jail. This view of the fort's wall with the single barred window and the glimpse beyond through a second window evokes the feeling that if I were to step through and look out that back window, I would have gone back in time 300 years. I can almost hear the rattle of cart and carriage wheels, shouts and conversations of people in multiple languages, donkeys braying (there are a LOT of feral donkeys in USVI descended from the ones that were used on the sugar plantations), and I can nearly see the ladies' heavy skirts in fabrics ranging from finest silks to plainest cotton. I can visualize the presence of merchants, sailors, pirates, slaves and sugar plantation owners. The photo is one of my earliest but is still one of my personal favorites because of the story it tells me. However, I realize that without the 'story behind the story' it can't say the same thing to anyone else. They will put their own story together from it.

Photograph of an old gas station sign near Book Cliffs in Utah
Gas for Less

Photographic storytelling is sometimes easy and sometimes remarkably difficult. Some images tell a story immediately, and other have to be mulled over before their narrative becomes obvious. When I go back through my images, I'll often find that the story became lost in the struggle for technique or that I was trying to cram too many elements into the view. Other times, I'll realize I missed the important point. When the image doesn't tell a story for me, I wonder how it can do so for anyone else.


Here are a few examples from my image collection that have fun stories to tell. But I have to admit that



Photograph of the entryway to a home where signs offer conflicting advice
A Welcome Paradox
Photograph of a train car with graffiti
Bye-Bye!

the bottom one has me absolutely stumped! I have not ever figured out why someone would stencil 'Lov3" onto a seemingly abandoned building in letters nearly six feet high. I hope someone else can make up a good story for it.

Photograph of a building with Love stenciled on it
At the Corner of Love and Abandonment

I hope you'll check out the rest of my website, www.denisedethlefsen.com, for images for your home, office or commercial space. I'm available if you have questions, comments, critiques or just want to say, "Hi." Please use the Contact page, or enter your email in the Sign Up to Stay Connected space. I'd love to hear from you. #art #interiordesign #interiordecor #interiorstyling #wallart #photoart #artforsale #buyart #photography #NaturePhotography #interiordecorating #homedecor #metal #canvas #prints @DDethlefPhoto @DeniseDPhotos


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