to Purchase Depth of Field
Depth of Field

ISBN:1-899235-82-5 (paperback)

Publication date: 2000
Originally published by: Dewi Lewis
192 pages


"This is the first novel of a writer with genuine talent. Sue Hubbard's originality lies in the gritty detail of the imagined past she pursues amongst the realities of a contemporary East End. This gives a remarkable freshness to a theme of a lost Jewish identity underlying Hannah's moving story'
Elaine Feinstein


'Depth of Field is a poet's first novel in the best sense of the word; lyrical highly visual and beautifully observed. At its heart is the profound and moving study of one woman's struggle for self determination…'
John Burnside


'Highly evocative… the rare quality, not of a text but of a place. It surrounds its readers and waits until they see in the dark and make their own discoveries.'
John Berger


Having grown up in the Home Counties, with her Jewish identity submerged and largely unidentified, Hannah experiences a sense of alienation and otherness. An early marriage to an emotionally repressed academic and their subsequent move to rural Somerset in search of the idyll of family life and self-suffiency, is shattered by her husband's infidelity.

Hannah returns to her embryonic career as a photographer, moving from the country to London's East End - convinced that if she can find her roots, some connection with her grandparents' Jewish past - that she will make sense of her life. A failed affair leads to a breakdown, and to her ex-husband gaining custody of her two children. Left alone to rebuild her life she begins to realise that we each have to construct our own lives. Identity is not dependent on spurious notions of 'roots' or 'romance'.

Depth of Field is an accute observation of the nature of identity and memory. Hannah's close observation of the physical world, both in the country and the East End, embues it with a deep sense of both history and place. John Berger has described the novel as 'highly evocative' giving 'the rare quality, not of a text, but of a place. It surrounds its readers and waits until they see in the dark to make their own discoveries.'


Opening Section of Depth of Field

Setting the focus

I am in the dark. This small room is like a nun's cell. Everything in its place. Neat, spare and entirely functional. There is a sink, the developing trays, a shelf of chemicals. Above the workbench the safety lamp glows a womb-like red. 1 have got used to doing things by feel or touch, by intuition. On the other wall, away from the water is an enlarger and a stack of boxes containing different grades of photographic paper and my books. The walls are bare except for a small spot where the paint peeled when I finally took down the photo of Liam. It left a small patch like pale new skin after a sticking plaster has been removed. In the developing trays black and white shapes are beginning to emerge from the bromide like thin ghosts. They seem to come out of nowhere, fragile as those transparent moths that gathered in our garden porch, clustering round the storm lantern on late summer evenings. They surface silent as memories and like the moths will only last for a while until they too perish; their paper yellowing or torn, lost or crumpled at the back of some dark damp drawer. Born from silver grains, they will eventually begin to age, will suffer attacks of light, of humidity; fade, weaken, and then vanish. Once transcendence was achieved through remembrance; through the images we keep in our head, or a smell, a taste, the chance sound of a voice. Perhaps it isn't coincidence that this is the century that invented both photography and history. But whereas history is simply a construct, the photograph is a device through which we try, for a brief moment, to hold time still before it moves relentlessly, indifferently on.

Sometimes I work listening to music. To Bach's late cello concertos or a Brahms intermezzo. But this morning I need quiet. Being here in this silence, among the faint whiff of chemicals reminds me of the labour room, of all that whiteness. Only the dull electronic blip, that thin line pulsating on the green screen monitoring the foetal heart beat, the sound of my own breathing; the icy tiles and starched linen.

Through my lens I have raised them from murky obscurity. Particularised and named them. In a way given them birth. Mary, Winston, the small girls with black braids like oiled rope, in pink nylon dresses, skipping. The abandoned synagogue in Princelet Street.

In order to obtain a positive picture, in which the light and shade corresponds to the original subject, it is necessary to print the negative. Everything contains the potential to be its opposite.


Content and Text © Sue Hubbard 2011

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