“Whenever Proust mentions photographs, he does so disparagingly: as a synonym for a shallow, too exclusively visual, merely voluntary relation to the past, whose yield is insignificant compared with the deep discoveries to be made by responding to cues give by all the senses—the technique he called ‘involuntary memory’.”
Susan Sontag, On Photography
The expectation now is that everything will be photographed and recorded and then posted online for everyone to see and never forgotten.
There’s an anxiety of losing the moment, like its loss will be a disaster.
I’m lucky to have been born well before digital photography, when cameras were brought out just for special occasions.
I have very few moments from childhood that I remember in all of their literal detail. They’ve been all molded together like a sedimentary rock, compressed by time, and are now a monolithic feeling.
The problem as I see it is the literal snapshot that keeps us from having to imagine and produce a story to tell others.
We can show them a snapshot instead. Here’s how it was. Here’s what we did. End of story.
Snapshots keep us from forgetting, which is the dismembering of the moment.
In snapshots, sharp details remain intact and never leave us in their current form. There is no myth anymore, just evidence.
Forgetting is critical though. It’s how we move forward and reinvent and recreate and become someone different.
My favorite photographs are the ones I didn’t know existed from moments I’d forgotten. They’re as surprising as Lazarus coming back from the dead.
Seeing all of the details help retrieve the memories and feelings from my organic harddrive, kept alive by electrolites like magic.
Re-membering is bringing the pieces back together. And there is such a pleasurable rush in it.
But to bring them back together, they have to fall apart to begin with.
Maybe the answer is that we take our pictures and lock them up immediately and store them in a time capsule that can’t be opened for a few years.
That will give us enough time to forget, and enough distance to let our imagination build a story that it files away and uses subconsciously, and the photographs will be a retrieval mechanism, a Dewey decimal system.
Elizabeth Bishop One Art
Susan Sontag On Photography
Marcel Proust Swann’s Way