Do Photos Limit Memories?

August 14, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

The other day I was looking through some old prints I have and found a photo my father had taken of me when I was a child. The print was fading, so I decided to scan it and try my best to make it visible. I then shared the photo on Facebook as a #TBT (Throw Back Thursday) treat to see how friends would react. Likes were through the roof. Comments ranged from "Rockwellian" to "My mother also made my clothes!". The photo was liked by both those who remembered a similar time in their lives and those who are too young to relate to the image. 

Here's the image:

A picture of me sitting on a sofa eating popcorn when I was a young girl. Popcorn on a Sunday nightA photo my father shot of me sometime in my childhood evokes memories for me of everything that is not in the photo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I read the commentary and watched the "likes" pile up on Facebook I was struck by what the photo meant to me. I remembered the evening the photo was taken. I can tell by what I am wearing that it was a Sunday night because I am wearing "dress" shoes, and I wore "corrective" shoes the rest of the week. I know that I am watching TV because in my mind's eye I can see the entire room and the other rooms of the house. We always had popcorn and tomato soup on Sunday nights - another clue it was a Sunday night.

I can't look at the photo without seeing my mother at the kitchen table, and my father standing by the glass door looking out at our back yard. I know that the leather couch will develop a tear in it that in the future I will absentmindedly worry into a bigger tear and get into trouble for having done so. I know that the lamp on the table is brass and has a golden lampshade. And I remember quite clearly that I was selecting only the pieces of popcorn with butter on them - which made me violently ill later that evening.

None of that information is captured in the photograph. And yet, for me, all of that information is captured in that photograph. I am absolutely transported to a time and place in my life. I know my mother made the jumper I'm wearing, and I think it was green (my favorite color), but I'm not 100% certain. I guess it wasn't a dress I loved, or I would surely remember what color it was. But more than anything, I can remember the absolute comfort of being the youngest child, home alone with my parents, enjoying my popcorn treat. 

What do you see when you look at this photo?  Do you see a scene from the late '50s, early '60s? A traditional home? Nice lighting captured by the photographer?  I hope that what you see is a story. It doesn't have to be the same story as mine, but if it tells you a story it has succeeded as an image. 

To me, that's the magic of photography. It's not just utilitarian. It's not strictly art. It's a way to record a moment in time that will live on - and it will live on as a story as long as people are able to view it. To me, as the subject of the photo, it evokes a vivid memory with all the associations I mentioned above. 

PHOTOGRAPHY IS EVERYWHERE

Photography is ubiquitous in today's digitally connected world. Selfies, drones, GoProsInstagram, Facebook - everywhere you turn there is an opportunity to record a moment and then share it with the world, or a few select friends. 

Some people think this obsession with digitally recording every moment kills memories and leaves you with only select bits of what happened. Some people think it is vital to record what you can of your life. Some people think that's narcissistic. What do you think?

THE STORY IS THE THING

If my Dad were alive, I would ask him if he remembered taking this photo. I bet he would. But he might just remember turning around to see his youngest daughter sitting in the light of a lamp that created an image he wanted to remember forever. That would have been his story.

I'm glad he took the picture, and I'm glad I found it. 

What do photos mean to you? 


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