Tank Park Salute

Michael John Bowen, August 1991

As self indulgent as this blog gets, i hope you are bearing with me. I am actually shooting a few new project ideas at the moment – i digress though… more of that another time.

Billy Bragg is playing right now as today is the 18th anniversary of my fathers death in 1992 when i was 19 years old. Beate pointed out that within a few months i will have spent more of my life without him than with, and so perhaps that is a good enough reason to ponder..

I had just that Friday returned from my second trip to India for the Manduwala project and had not seen him for the better part of a year… we caught up on the Saturday.. I slept through the Sunday .. and after he had passed on the Monday Phil came round to keep me company.. After the worst of My Struggle, we watched Monty Pythons ´Life of Brian´, and i tried to feel anything but the way i felt.

As a tribute of sorts, and with my father in mind, I´ve begun photographing the remains of his life.. a stained and dusty envelope with army records.. the blood-red ´Instructions for Opening Fire´ card from his time on Cyprus during the 60´s, (below)..  his taxi license badges which were strung around his neck 12 hours a day for the better part of 30 years.. the only photograph i have of him – the only one i took (at top)..

Cyprus ´Rules of Engagement´

Perhaps the start of a Bruce Chatwin inspired project entitled ´God Box´ – finding a place for the bits of paper and other mementos which are kept in a small wooden foot stall. Click.. Click… Click.. I began to take the photos of sorrowful and meager possessions.. however, too much navel gazing you start to see the fluff.

I´ve found that the loss of a parent never gets easier, yet coping with the loss becomes second nature.. a rite of passage which forces a strange kind of self control. Perhaps all the disparate circumstances of mortality lend us that.  Of course I wish we´d talked more.. adult to adult.. I´d love to hear more about his time in the east-end of London in the early 1940´s.. the gangs.. his place.. and how he came to have his ear sliced by a flying brick. I know virtually nothing of my extended family there.. families.. tschk. A project for the future.

The grief is mostly selfish – looking for tantalizing references of a history to perhaps fill the void left by my impossibly small family. Some though is not. He would be proud of Tor Capa – his grandson – and my beautiful lover Beate.. Norway would have rocked his boat. No doubt he would join me for a Scotch and laugh back at that idealistic teenager,  banging around in the loft 21 years ago.. trying to make a darkroom balance on a broken door which was laid flat across ceiling rafters.

So I was just on the brink of picking at the fluff in my metaphorical belly button, when Tor Capa heard the bright *chink* of Dads brass taxi badges.. (he presumes that any metallic shiny object which ´rings´ belongs to him). He bumbles over, grabs the badges from me, strings them around his neck and in doing so effortlessly drags me directly back to The Present.

Good boy.

Cheers Dad..

4 Responses to “Tank Park Salute”

  • Powerful stuff. I lost my mum to cancer in 1991 just after I returned from Morocco, lucky i made it back in time. Bit similar to you. You appear to lament not knowing enough of your dad before he died, but that is always the way, I was just 20 when my mum died which is perhaps a mere 5 or less years of unselfish interest in another person and yet I seem to have gained some important knowledge of her life’s ambition (stalled and mostly unfulfilled by my arrival of course) in that time and indeed her life inspired me, her death too at 49 years of age I learnt, just at the start of my travelling career, that this is the one short chance we get to do something amazing and so I continued travelling hoping to make her proud. Making my dad proud and worried along the way before landing me here in Japan. I love how you say loss never gets easier, just coping with the loss becomes second nature. That is so true. Well said and great ideas to photograph the remnants of life. Good post not self indulgent, a snap shot of a life continuing. Particularly like the uptodateness of your son (sorry may have called him your daughter before as Tor just made me think of Victoria) bringing you back to earth and keeping you focussed on what is the point of all life, the interconnectedness the need to tell stories and ensure legacies. Thank you for writing this. Damon

  • hi damon

    well – there are certainly points of relation between us – thanks for taking the time to reply.

    it was a tough weekend that dad died – a knock on the door from the police and a trip to the hospital to identify him.. a solid stone book-end to all that had gone before..

    it´s what you rightly call ¨unselfish interest in another person¨ that is missing from teenagers lives.. certainly mine :ø)
    loosing a parent in the middle of that search for self awareness is a strangely grounding happening.. and as you say it opens a perceptive door which stays with us.. travel.. photography – doing what you want to do became something of an urgent obsession and any dangers or discomfort are much more easily tolerated.

    whats missing for me is his side of the family.. our family dissolved prior to his passing and contacts were lost and are now difficult to find. my hope is that photography will serve as some kind of introduction to his surviving relatives in london.. i only need to find one to begin with :ø)

    as an aside – you know that anton is in japan for the duration of may, continuing his project? hit me up if you don´t have his email address..


  • Wow. Powerful writing. Kids have a habit of pulling us back to the present. I guess that’s one of their tasks.

    A gorgeous youngster, that Tor Capa.

    I think of my mum and dad a lot at the moment. All too aware that I don’t have many gatherings left with them. Angela and Kevin are wonderful people and they afforded my three siblings and me a splendid childhood.

    They’re vital people. Still strong and healthy but getting old. My dad often winds me up by speaking of his being “close to the tape”. They both have lived a wonderful life and are keen to keep on living it as best they can but should anything happen to either of them, they would be fine knowing that they lived it to the fullest. To the fullest. They have set a standard for the generations below them. And so by their example I try to live mine to the fullest too.

    Angela and Kevin are my mum and dad but not my biological parents. Not my “blood” relatives. I don’t ever remember being told but I always knew. We all did. I guess they told us before we understood and therefore grew into the knowledge.

    In the late 90’s I was contacted by the adoption agency to say that I had a sister born and brought up in England. There are four of us in total. Three born and brought up in Ireland. I was stunned at this. We have still not managed to meet but will this year now that I’m back in the UK. My two half sisters in Ireland have not maintained contact and I have no idea where they are. But my English sister is in regular contact. She looks like me and is also a visual artist and dog lover.

    She lived with our mother until 1983 when she died of cancer. She is the only one of us who knew her. My son, Eoin, now eight years old is the first blood relative I’ve met. His younger brother, Connor, the second. My sister will be the third.

    Such an experience can really rattle one’s sense of self identity.

    Your lovely post about your dad has given me much pause for thought and reflection.

    All the best,
    Paul Treacy

  • a civilian-mass audience


    I am proud of you…DAVIDB…and I bet my ouzo
    that your papa is proud as me

    VIVA Michael John Bowen !!!

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