I’m looking at this image out of context, without any narrative framing. The first thing I see is the subject. I see boys playing rugby. I see an adult hand pointing. I see concentration not only in the boys’ faces but also in the vortex-like focussing of the image.
This is what I think. I remember how when I was a child my father liked to watch rugby on TV. He’d played rugby as a boy and as a younger man and his legs were and still are indented with the scars from where he’d been kicked by his opponents in scrums like the one in this image. I was very curious about these scars as a child. To me they were like the marks an axe might leave as they cut into a tree.
I suppose they offered a trace of my father’s history before me, perhaps before my mother. My mother would shake her head about them as though he’d just emerged from some brutal tribal initiation that she couldn’t understand, as though they represented some dangerous state he’d once embodied and to which he might return. I understood as a child that the scars were still about team sports: the gender tactics of their marriage. The scars were something to do with men and in the dismissive shaking of my mother’s head was the lining up of sides: we were women so would not understand.
So I thought of my father’s rugby-playing in the same way as I look at this image. I was outside the experience. I’m still worried, as my child self was, that I would be hurt if I participated. I know I still would try and avoid that kind of physical danger.
But that’s not to say I didn’t try and play the game then. My father used to love watching rugby so much that as a small child I was curious, maybe a little jealous. I remember now how I’d try and stand in his sight line, between him in his chair and the game on TV. My strategies were not something he found amusing. Sport was a serious game and he’d fill the room with cigarette smoke in his anxiety that his team would win, pull his chair closer so no one could interrupt his view.
When I look at this image now I realise that what was missing for him then was the embodied experience of the game. My father’s determination to be alone in a room watching the game unfold on screen somehow highlighted this absence of physicality. It’s no coincidence that looking at this image again reminds me of that isolation. It also reminds me of my child-self feeling misplaced in a room and of my slow understanding, through that oddly-placed observation of my father, of how private the experience of watching really is.
I’m thinking these thoughts before I chose to watch this film. I’m thinking how many associations this single image generates and through how many filters I’ll watch even this one frame. Cognition in film is an approximation at 24fps. It is another sort of sport, a guessing game for people when they don’t want to test their mettle against the danger of the team.