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What a beautiful way down from Mt. Fuji! Except I absolutely hated it, was on painkillers, had run out of water and wanted to throw my companion down the mountain for many unreasonable reasons. All things I might, or might not, remember in future.

Memory and Photos

What a beautiful way down from Mt. Fuji! Except I absolutely hated it, was on painkillers, had run out of water and wanted to throw my companion down the mountain for many unreasonable reasons. All things I might, or might not, remember in future.

What a beautiful way down from Mt. Fuji! Except I absolutely hated it, was on painkillers, had run out of water and wanted to throw my companion down the mountain for many unreasonable reasons. All things I might, or might not, remember in future. © holger feroudj

 

Memory is always biased. And memory is something very organic, changing, breathing, living. It is far from a static piece of information, stored away in some folder of your brain. Yet many people think that’s exactly what it is.

In fact, the more you try to remember something, the more this memory might change from how things really were. With every recollection, you are more and more convinced that what you could barely remember at first really happened the way you remember. Your memories become your past, your life.

20, 30 years ago, when you were still in school, something happened that you remember in all its details. The desperate look in the poor boy’s face, the adrenaline pumping through your body as you rush into the cold lake to save him, the exhaustion from pulling him out of the water, the wet clothes sticking to your body…

… strange to think that it wasn’t really you who saved your classmate from drowning and sure death, yet what if somebody showed you a photo of that moment, you standing at the side of the lake with some others, while not you, but this black haired, athletic guy pulls the boy out on the shore? This guy seems familiar, you suddenly feel a bit choked and then dull looking at him in this picture, but you can’t quite remember who that is…

Seems surreal? Yes. But things like this – in one form or another – happen all the time.

In your memory, you saved that boy. You remember the details so vividly, it can’t have been anyone else. You told the story to your kids countless times, “No way! It wasn’t as the photo shows!”

And yet… who do you trust more? A photo, or your memory? The person in this story would likely never believe it wasn’t them who saved the kid 30 years ago, even if you showed them a photo.

I am fascinated by MEMORY

And I am fascinated by how photography and memory work together in such an interesting and powerful way.

Remember the last sunset you’ve seen, and how beautiful it was. Now, if you took a photo of it, go find that photo and look at it. Notice something? And no, I don’t think the photo looks way less impressive because you’re not good at taking photos, or because your camera isn’t good.

So what do we do about the crappy looking sunset photo? Photoshop. Edit it. Whatever you need to do to make it look like we remember the scene – make it look like, and this is important, our own subjective truth.

But this is not enough for me.

What I like to do sometimes, is make it look better than I remember it.

Now it’s me at the steering wheel, controlling and forming my past; because whenever I am going to look at this beautiful sunset and remember that scene, I’ll see it more clearly inside of my head. Whenever I try to remember that scene, I’ll see first the picture I took in front of my inner eye, and then with each time I think about it, I remember more beautiful and vivid details I hadn’t remembered before… until the scene is so beautiful, that the warm feeling of awe penetrates every cell of my body.

Do I care that the scene wasn’t really like that?

Well… what’s more “real” – my memory or the raw data from my camera, bits and bytes, 0s and 1s?

I certainly know what feels more real – go figure.

Afterword

Now with Google Glass giving you the opportunity to take videos and photos of scenes “just the way you see it with your own eyes” I am really curious as to how things will change in regards to remembering these events. Sure, we will more than ever be able to see things exactly as they happened, unprocessed by our brains… but do we want that?

 

 I have dealt with the topic of “memory – photography” in a slightly different, physical form in my book White Snow on Black Ice – if you’re interested in this topic, be sure to check some photographs of the book and the thoughts behind it here.

16 comments

Unfortunately, I agree with you. I have the same feeling when I see a moment I want to capture. I see it in black and white and high contrast right now. Thats how I want to see it and thats how I make it look. Sometimes after taking the photo it can go in a completely different direction but it is still mine to make. Photos are made not taken and as you said in your post, memory cant be trusted. I DO NOT trust my memory. And you know that 🙂

Yeah, isn’t that where the fun really only begins, by bringing your imagination to the table? I didn’t want to make this a edited vs. ‘real’ discussion, but there are so many people bashing photographers for editing their photos, it often makes me nauseous (hope I spelled that right :P)

Thanks +Martin Irwin! I agree – nostalgia is awesome!

+andrew holian I answered on my site – seems like the replies don't get back-synced to Google+ …

is it a plugin you're using? I was going to ask which server are you using – but that's for a different thread!

+Martin Irwin I'm using Daniel Treadwell's plugin, the free version: http://gpb.minimali.se/google+blog/
With a bit of tweaking it works really nice 😉

Thanks for the tip! I'll investigate 🙂

I used to be fascinated by memory too. Specifically, what happens inside our brain when we store memories? For example I remember having met somebody wearing a yellow hat: how does my brain store that information? Is there a separate synapse for hat and a separate one for yellow? What if it were a blue hat? And how is that memory retrieved? And so on, and so on…. used to drive me nuts haha

+Ali Malay oh yeah from a physiological perspective it's really interesting too!! I remember that I had to study a lot about it in my lectures back in Germany, but kind of ironic that I forgot the details about how it works, and how the synapses are coupled etc :p

Great article +Ali Malay and a very interesting conversation about a topic that will hunt photography as a medium for as long as it exists. Put simply, I believe that photos rarely show "reality" – as I kind of mentioned in the blog post. This is – mixed with news photography – a dangerous situation, unlike in fine art where many people complain but at the end of the day it doesn't matter because it's "just art"
Hmmm…

Also, see Winston's job in 1984 😉

+Martin Irwin You gotta help me a bit out here, mate, I only know Murakami's 1Q84 😉

Oh my goodness! In that case… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nineteen_Eighty-Four
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winston_Smith

You should definitely read it. Murakami's 1Q84 was good for Book 1 and by Book 2 I was looking forward to Book 3, which really let me down.

+Martin Irwin Thanks! Have to admit I only knew the "Big Brother" part of 1984, not the history-rewriting part. But yes! That totally goes in the direction of what I meant to say in my blog post, only that I already re-write history after it just happened 😛
P.S: I feel similar about 1Q84 like you… Can't wait to read his newest one, though. Sounds very good. I have high expectations 😉

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