Alice Mills (Pills) as Topsy Twinkle Toes on lawn of Women's College, Kangaroo Point, Queensland, undated / The University of Queensland, Fryer Library

Rowena Grant-Frost and Fryer Library

Rowena Grant-Frost is a Brisbane-based writer and editor. In this Remember or Revive, Rowena has created a new piece of reflective writing in response to an evocative and mysterious photograph of Alice Mills, a young girl who studied at the University of Queensland, probably some time in the 1920s.

Drawn from the Fryer Library collection (home to a vast photographic collection, among other important materials), this image was selected by Rowena from a number of photographs depicting young women who were undertaking their studies at The University of Queensland in the first quarter of the 20th century. It is a poignant rumination on photographs that have been separated from their original story.

Towards Eternity, by Rowena Grant-Frost

A lot of the time, when I see pictures of the dead, I usually forget they were alive. The worlds they live in are so flat and colourless, so blurred and bleached and faded, it’s not like they were ever alive at all. They’re not real people, like you and me, they’re just shadows trapped in a frame, forever fixed in place, like specimens in amber.

I do not feel this way about Alice Mills. About Alice Mills, I don’t know how old, as she raises a gartered right leg, toes en pointe, squints into the sun and holds a lopsided cape behind her while her friend with a camera laughs and clicks and takes photos.

There is something alive about this moment. There is something about it that transcends its age and place and takes me to the curved path next to the lawn, as Alice rehearses exactly where she will place her legs, her arms and her eyes.

She is pretending to be “Topsy Twinkletoes” she says. This detail is recorded on the photo’s caption, but nothing more – not her age, her hopes, her purpose.

She holds her pose for a moment and her friend counts to three, the shutter clicks and it’s done. Light is burnt onto emulsion. Colour and movement are turned into shades of grey. A moment becomes eternity.

Published in , on October 8, 2013.