Mr Johnston is late because he spent too long polishing his Italian leather shoes. He is carrying an attaché case containing a camera. He is walking rapidly up Regent Street from Piccadilly Circus where he emerged from the Tube into pale Spring sunshine a few minutes ago. His Borsalino Fedora is jammed down tight on his head against the wind, his trouser legs are flapping as are the panels of his trench coat.
He frames images in his mind’s eye as he moves swiftly through the crowds, the classical architecture providing a perfect curved backdrop of honey-coloured stone accented with soft shadows in the pale sunlight.
A spotted ribbon lies forlorn on the pavement, an unexpected flash of blue with white spots in a scene of muted colours, on a whim he picks it up, thrusts it deep into his pocket as he rushes on his way.
Coming towards him twenty yards away are a child and her mother, white gloved hands joined between them, he hears the girl sobbing and her mother’s comforting words spoken with a soft French accent, ‘I’m sure we’ll find it before we reach Piccadilly darling, it must have blown away just as we came round that first corner. ‘
Mr Johnston knows right away that they are searching for the ribbon he has found, ‘This must be yours I think’ holding it out to the child. With a smile and a wipe of her gloved hand to dry her tears, she mutters a shy “Thank you” turning to look up at her mother, “You’re very kind”. Mr Johnston’s sees the red lipstick, dark curled hair and the green eyes, nods with a smile and walks on.
With every step he takes away from her, the image of her face is brought into sharper contrast until that moment of full focus when he remembers her. The face he has not seen since the summer of 1950, the memory buried deep to lessen the longing, the woman who had meant, still means so much to him. Mr Johnston has to choose, there is everything at stake in this instant.
In one direction lies the most important meeting of his career, an appointment with the Magnum photographic agency, in the other direction the lost love and a girl – who must be his daughter.
He stops and looks back after them, the words of Cartier Bresson resounding in his brain,
“When events of significance are taking place, when it doesn’t involve a great deal of money and when one is nearby, one must stay photographically in contact with the realities taking place in front of our lenses and not hesitate to sacrifice material comfort and security.”
Dragging his camera from the case as he runs towards them, he calls her name and is ready when Gloria and his daughter turn around and he captures the image that takes him across the dividing line between the involved and the witness, no longer a father or lover but a photographer.