My younger and hilarious brother, Ab, has always stated with unshakable vehemence that he has no interest in getting involved with any of my eccentric photo-storytelling projects, a statement of undeniable concrete conviction which I have diagnosed to be a result of that universal reason that underlies all sibling rivalries, and that is purely that I occupy the role of the big sister and therefore I must be rebelled at! But, as the whole of the world knows, Ab loves me a lot, though give him a million pounds and he will still refuse to put it into words, and, to be frank, to not hear him say it implies in my mind that he regards our bond with such genuine affection that words would become as crutches to something that goes far deeper. Oh – and he always sticks free tickets and luxury cups of tea whenever I go to his cinema – the only one in Winchester – and consistently ensures with the penetrating eye of a hawk that I secure premier seats of the house! If that is not brotherly love than I do not know what is! Giggle, giggle!
Now and again miracles materialise before me that snatch away my breath and I am forced to pinch my own skin to reassure myself that I am awake. Yesterday, just before my girly adventures were to begin with Agnes and Chiara, Ab announced that he wished to volunteer to be part of my book project. It felt as if someone had pulled the carpet away from underneath my feet and I was tumbling down into the rabbit hole of an exotic and strange new world, for my brother had never ever shown the slightest needle-prick curiosity in my artistic endeavours! I could not believe my ears and I reckon I must have blinked several times in quick succession, my lashes fluttering like the wings of a butterfly about to set off into the air!
“Ab, you want to do WHAT?!” I was on the verge of bowling over. The excitement had shot up through my spinal cord with the speed of an electric eel swimming upstream into my brain!
“Yeah, I’ve seen the pictures. Looks like you really mean it, you really want people to think about the books they’ve read.” Ab’s eyes glittered with a rare sparkle of thoughtfulness, he had let his guard down a little this time and I saw that he had been hiding for a quite a while his true feelings about my book project. He saw merit in my humble work and now, he too, wanted to be part of it.
“That is amazing! Yes, yes, I DO want you to be part of the circle!” I was overjoyed and remembering that I had to meet Chiara and Agnes at 2pm I did not waste a moment in negotiating a suitable time for the shoot with Ab. I asked him, breathless and with a tiny prance jingling in my feet, when would be convenient for him and was there a book floating in the bathtub of his mind.
“It would be awesome if you could come up to the cinema. I am a showman and that would be the best place for me to show-off the book I have got for you”. Ab took a step back and I saw that he had already chosen his book and it lay there in his room, the laminated cover reflecting off what little sunlight was pouring through the windows. I came closer and peered down to face the cover. I had read it too and thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it.
“Yes, the original prince of darkness, Dracula. Will that do?” The pride and authority in his voice spoke volumes, and I was ineffably touched that my younger brother could be so spectacularly sincere when he wanted to be. If my memory served me correctly, Ab had read the book more times than myself, three to be precise, and his ability to recollect specific passages from the text is extraordinary, another indication that this piece of gothic Victorian novelisation had made a profound impression on him.
“Of course it will do, you nitwit! Right, I am meeting my friends at 2pm so…..” I let my voice trail away into silence, hoping that he would fill it in with what I wished to propose, and that was if it was at all possible to squeeze in the shoot just before my appointment with my mates.
“Meet me in the cinema at 1.30pm and we can have the auditorium to ourselves, how is that for you?” Ab wore a smug grin on his face, he knew he had hit the nail on the head with his flashy proposition and too right was he, for I think I was going to bounce and ricochet off the walls, that is how exuberantly happy I was! A stylish shoot in an auditorium in the most plushy, deluxe and vintage-themed cinema in Hampshire and who ran it – my brother, Ab! Yeeeehaaaaaaaaa!!! ♥
Whilst I finished off the last of the paperwork Ab trotted off to work and to just observe him carefully sliding his copy of Dracula into his satchel made me feel tender with sisterly love, confirming once again that it was what we did for others that would always contain the truest portrayal of our relationship with each other. My brother Ab, always complaining about his bossy old sister, looked out for me without letting me know that he did. Right there and then I felt as warm as a billion buttercups on sunny day! ♥
So, who was this ‘Prince of Darkness’, whom the author, Bram Stoker in 1897, came to name as ‘Dracula’, the eponymous title of the most famous gothic fiction ever penned? The front cover of Ab’s edition of the book depicts a monochrome illustration of a sinister elderly man with a long and pointy face, whose eyes are slanted to one direction and eerily fixed on someone and such is his penetration of gaze that it already suggests to us that it is something our anti-hero regards with predatory desire. The image is silent and it appears to be a creature of the night, adept at the art of concealing himself behind ghoulish shadows and cloaking wisps of mist and fog. Though he is a solitary figure of darkness, one glance at the cover and You know that here is an entity who is a wielder of mysterious and supernatural forces, potent enough to defeat whole armies of men in one foul swoop, without leaving a trace and therefore stalling even an inkling for detection.
Count Dracula, Prince of Darkness, was a vampire, not alive and nor dead, he existed in the tormented limbo land of the undead, forever thirsting for the blood of the living. In Stoker’s tale, our anti-hero goes on to hatch an elaborate plot to convert more humans into becoming and joining his frightening kind and thus expand his empire of terror. Hailing from the mountains of Transylvania, Dracula sets out to England by sea and, using his exceptional skills of articulation and artifice, he acquires multiple estates that are to become his breeding grounds for feeding on the blood of the living and hence spread the seed of the curse. After a string of inexplicable and murderous deaths, a group of men, led by Professor Van Helsing, vow to bring the creature to his death.
It is very much a male-orientated story but I do admire Stoker’s inclusion of a female protagonist, Mina, and despite the restrictions and traditional views of women in Victorian England, the author displays a brave deviation from customary thinking by asserting Mina’s importance in the narrative. She is in effect a detective, piecing together articles with an eye for chronological accuracy and establishing curious patterns and links which she then relays to Van Helsing’s team. Most importantly, after repeated attacks made on her life by Dracula, Mina begins to develop a psychic bond between herself and the creature, and the team are swift in realising that they could extract vital information from Mina to help them track down Dracula after a blow to his evil plans forces him to flee back to Transylvania. Crossing vast swathes of continents, the entire team led under the command of Van Helsing reach the harsh and windswept foothills of Dracula’s castle and so begins a bloody battle between the forces of Good and Evil.
But, I have always thought of my Prince of Darkness in a rather different way. He might have not always been a creature of the dark and the walking dead. What if someone harbouring a malignant and depraved thirst for destruction had ensnared his innocent soul, and polluted his thoughts with the blackness of coal and made him forget about the warm light of the Sun? Vampires cannot tolerate the Light under any circumstances, and they will always find ways to shield and protect themselves from its life-affirming rays. Traditional folktales are rampant with vampires who are incinerated into cinders as the rise of the dawn blasts with pure triumphant joy, turning the fierce blood-thirsty beast into no more than a pile of idle ash. Yet, I refuse to cower in resignation and accept that this is wholly true. I will implode if I do not let it in my heart to believe that in every vampire that ever once lived as a human must, somewhere in the abyss of their being, remember what it felt like to walk under the grace of the oak and elm trees as the morning light seeped through their swaying dome of leafy green petals. Nothing is ever born evil or dark or shadowy, it was made like so.
I arrived at the cinema and swished my head to turn to the clock which informed me that I had 15 minutes to complete the shoot before heading out to meet Chiara and Agnes. Whatever I had to do I had to do it quick, no faffing about!
“Come on then!” Ab held the book in a way that suggested that he had wrote it, I think when You have read something so many times You do at some point begin to think that it was never written by anyone, it simply came out of Your own reading! My brother seemed to know exactly what to do as he escorted me into the large, empty auditorium. I had no tripod in my kit so he very kindly switched all the lights on to full blast and then scooted off to various seats and sat down reading away his favourite passages from the book. I nearly laughed out my tongue when he showed to me how he had reacted to certain twists in the plot, he is no actor, yet I have to issue him a salute for his dashing bravery in risking his gentlemanly reputation just so that You can take a peek at how this book caught his attention by the hooks! The very last photographic still in the gallery below was the one I had requested of him and at the time I did not tell him my reasons for the bizarre composition, I rather he read it now with everyone else. Turning his head up towards the brilliance of the spotlight I instructed Ab to hold the pages out towards the light. My brother was rightfully confused but he could not be bothered to argue with me, our time was running out just as Dracula’s was when the battle outside his fortress began to be bathed in a new dawn.
“Like this, is that ok with you?” Ab was somewhat disorientated by my orders, yet I could sense that he knew I was up to something and that it would pan out just fine in the end.
“That will do very nicely, and just stay like that.” As I came down to press the shutter button, I could sense that I had led someone, who had spent far too long a time in the bowels of darkness and despair, at last into the embrace of the Light. If there was anything that contained both the gravity of a tear and the liberation of a smile, I had become that. The vampire had gone for good, and all that remained now was a man and he still yearned to drink and drink forever:
From the cups of my snow white hands, life and the holy book of tea… ♥♥♥
Photography & Words: © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | Everyman Cinema | Winchester | UK 2016