Three Snapshots of Georgia


I. Georgia loves volcanoes

This, at least, is a real snapshot of Georgia, aged thirteen-ish. One of us caught a back view from fifteen or so metres, as she stalked off away ahead of us in a manifest huff on the walking path through the lava fields on Rangitoto. It was taken in a spirit of familial malice, gleefully recording the eloquent back while the face was pointedly denied us.

The back is narrow, and very, very straight. The shoulders are very square, the elbows sharp and tight to her sides. The neck is straight and taut, holding the small head high and facing resolutely forward. She’s a study in uprightness, all fine white rectilinear limbs contradicting the horizontal sailor stripes of the skimpy dress.

She’s moving, fast—it’s there, in the swaying wing of hair, the flexed knee, the flick of a disdainful heel. She’s plainly furious.

If you could flip the print and see the face on the verso, it would tell you less about Georgia than that rigid little back—unless, perhaps, you could see her hands stretch forward as if to embrace the jagged lava.

II: Georgia has the last word

The photo frames three lines of graffiti, energetically lettered on a crimson wall. Georgia is out of shot, holding the dripping brush—or maybe the smoking gun, for the text is the deciding shot in a mother-daughter war.

Hostilities rumbled all the months I coaxed Georgia through her painting submission for the University Bursary examination. They blew up each time she got tearfully stuck, and I got briskly, helpfully pragmatic. You have to imagine endless variations on ‘I have to find another artist model/ abstract it without spoiling it/ get this board covered with something before 8.30 tomorrow.’

And as many briskly pragmatic suggestions. Most of them began with ‘It doesn’t matter whether you actually like it …’ and a few of them worked—stayed the tears, banished the paralysis, coaxed her into covering a bit more accusing white space. But any reference to Matisse enraged her; and I kept seeing solutions to her particular dilemmas in the example of Matisse, Matissean bones in her still lifes. And I kept saying so.

Midnight before deadline day, in the dining-room-turned-art-studio. We’d argued half a wasted hour before calling a shamed truce. Now the coffee and the paint were flowing, and we were watching the white space receding before her brush, giving way to something strong, spare and serene … and inescapably reminiscent of Matisse.

Georgia saw it just as I did, turned to me just as I opened my mouth. A just-you-dare-say-it look, a grin, a shrug—and she seized a big brush and a pot of prussian blue:



(1.30AM, 14/10/2002)

III. Georgia explains

Georgia presides cross-legged in the corner of the couch, intent upon explaining. A shaft of light brushes the side of her face, inflaming her hair and bathing her hands. Pink-tipped fingers feel for the perfect words to wrap around a notion of perfection.

I think briefly of slipping away from the camera, but I’m required.

She wants me to know, will have me know, just how Botticelli resembles a certain painter of early Greek vases. The books are open on her lap, but she waves away appearances—it’s not their gods or warriors or maidens or draperies, it’s all about their questing for perfection.

She can see it, before her face at shoulder height. Tentative fingers caress the contours of a comparison, probe its intricacies, measure its limits. The wide grey gaze is fixed on the airy artefact she is fashioning. Palms at right angles, her fingers crook and close. They were content, she tells me, to pursue perfection inside the rules, within the limits.

Now she’s luminous with conviction.

She has it—at her varnished fingertips. They trace the hardening certainty, as surely as a mime’s gloved fingers register the pane of glass, the fact of confinement.



Janet Hughes is a Wellington editor, printmaker and university tutor. ‘Three Snapshots of Georgia’ was completed in the course of Harry Ricketts’ Creative Nonfiction Workshop at the IIML.