In Adam Aitkens memoir One Hundred Letters Home, we learn about the meeting of his Anglo-Australian father and Thai mother and the reasons for their marriage.
Through letters sent home to Australia by his father, poetry, photography and intertextual references, Aitken explores his own identity through the dissection of his parents relationship and the barriers they overcame.
Adam Aitken is an Australian poet, with a Masters in Linguistics and a Doctorate in Creative Writing, and has written extensively on Asian Australian literature.
THINK with Adam Aitken.
One Hundred Letters Home [excerpt]
After I had been born, like any other proud father, mine began to compile a large family portfolio — all the while recording exposure times, aperture etc., all of which he noted down in a Spirax notebook. As I look through a box of early London snaps, a scrap of paper falls out of a sheaf of baby photos:
KODAK PLUS X B & N WFS 64 — 28.8.60
1. Adam 3’6’ F 5.6 100 underex.
2. Adam 3’ 6’ F 3.5 100 OK
3. Adam crying 3’ 0’ F3.5 50 OK
4. Adam and Sumana 5’ 0’ F 5.6 or 8 50 OK
5. Adam in bath 3’ 6’ F 8.6 50 OK
I was not quite four weeks old and the list covers the whole roll of twenty-four exposures.
In a picture taken by an unnamed photographer (the third point of the triangle) someone is mediating a family’s touch and affection: me, as heir to an ideal, their baby son. You are holding a baby, a very interesting human object. The infant is frowning, looking into his father’s face, which is just as intense, but happy. One can’t say the baby looks happy, just thinking as babies do, but thinking too much, impatient to grow up and to analyse. My mother lines up with the baby, but slightly detached. She’s in a white smock, cut perfectly to hang casually over her small Siamese figure, hair pulled back to reveal the pagoda of her forehead. You are turned out the perfect gentleman, in tweed sports jacket, with a paisley cravat. You have a very Oxbridge haircut. It’s as if you were about to go punting on the Cam. The baby swaddled in a white blanket, almost completely enshrouded in it. The baby comes between the parents, they look towards him, the baby looks at you, you look at the baby, and the mother looks at... Wait. At some stage, when I return to check the photo, it looks quite different. What I have described is a description based too exclusively on my memory. This is what the photo really looks like: the father in cravat. The mother in batik skirt, close-cut at the waist and hips. She is looking at the baby. The father is looking at her, but not smiling. The baby still looks serious or analytical, checking out his Dad.
I love this image, so much the ideal family triangle, and yet casually posed. Finally, I have found myself, at the centre loving parenthood! The photographer is one of my father’s advertising peers renowned for his perfect grasp of composition. He has put me at the very best point — where perspective, feeling, light, fashionable hairstyles, and meaning converge. I am neither bastard nor half-breed. In fact, the exposure has confirmed how very white I am.
I have found myself, I have I found you, the honest man and the honest woman.
- Excerpt from One Hundred Letters Home by Adam Aitken, 2016.
Photo credits: Vagabond Press
Aitken, A 2016, One Hundred Letters Home, Vagabond Press, Australia.