Photographic Evidence


76 pages
ISBN 0-88753-347-7
DDC C811.54





Reviewed by Thomas M.F. Gerry

Thomas M.F. Gerry is a professor of English at Laurentian University and
the editor of Arachne, Laurentian University’s bilingual
interdisciplinary journal of language and literature.


With this collection of 46 poems, Ronnie R. Brown shares her meditations
on ways in which photographs make meaning. The content of the
photographs is usually the poet and members of her family. Brown’s
poetic thoughts and reactions to a wide variety of photographs give the
poems their impact. Her writing is unadorned, direct, and startlingly
efficient at creating moods and perspectives. Many of Brown’s poems
involve nostalgia but go well beyond simply lamenting time’s passing
and missed opportunities.

Brown celebrates the power of photographs to retain the significance of
past moments. In “Significant Moments” she reveals herself
overcoming her personal vanity and reluctance to be photographed “so
that her children will not look back and find their mother distanced or
absent from the picture-books of their lives.” Elsewhere she sees a
shelf of photo albums as “Photographic Evidence,” “Exhibits
waiting to be presented in defense of her life.”

Yet, as Brown demonstrates through her poems, the true power of
photographs inheres not so much in their documentary quality as in their
being so open to interpretations. “Family Ties” is an outstanding
illustration of Brown’s poetic ability to present succinctly a complex
emotional as well as intellectual insight. The poet’s mother and aunts
gave a “memory album” to their dying mother. The grandmother
cherished the album, according to a social worker who witnessed the old
woman’s final months, “pointing to picture after picture long after
she’d lost interest in nearly everything else.” It turns out that
through some mix-up, the grandmother had all along been holding someone
else’s memory album.

For Brown, though, meaning is not entirely in the eye of the beholder.
The power of photographs is for her very real. In fact, several of her
best poems show how she imagines herself not only as a figure in
photograph albums, but empowered, as a camera. In “Time Travel,” the
poet stares at photographed scenes “till her mind races, is
motor-driven clicking faster and faster” until she lands “in that
dark, forbidden territory hidden between snap and shot.” Looking
through a box of “Negative Images,” the poet, like a camera, finds
“the familiar sunny world of her parents’ album [turn] into a dark
and frightening place that feels surprisingly like home.”

Photographic Evidence is a collection of strong poems. I look forward
to Brown’s next volume.


Brown, Ronnie R., “Photographic Evidence,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 16, 2024,