June 5 2011: Wedding Photograph With Axes (Unknown Location, later 1940s or early 1950s)

Keeping to the wedding theme of yesterday’s image, here’s another celebration of marital union with a twist on the usual approach to the content and framing of the photograph. It’s to be assumed that the groom is a fireman while the lines of uniformed men holding axes (and creating a slightly sinister looking gauntlet) are his colleagues.  Somehow, though, even as I know this – or can at least infer it pretty clearly – in another part of my brain is a memory of a schoolyard game in which two children make an arch with their arms and all the other children duck through it as the lines of Oranges and Lemons count down to a mimed execution:

Here comes a taper to light you to bed.
Here comes a hatchet to chop off your head.
Chop chop, the last one’s dead.

The arch then drops to catch the child passing through, the arms usually closing around the neck in a mock decapitation. In a variant version children would pass beneath the arch in pairs and, once executed, each pair would form another arch, extending the first. This ensures that the series of arches becomes an ever-longer tunnel the remaining pairs of children need to run through ever-faster to escape: but, of course, the game’s design ensures that no player can fully escape, making Oranges And Lemons a kind of object lesson in mortality. At some point, the hatchet falls on every participant.

There is another version, performed as part of an English folk dance, where actual swords are used: or if there isn’t, then Robin Hardy’s 1973 film The Wicker Man invented such a version and made it eerily plausible.

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