The way we remember our past is shaped by the manner in which it is recalled. For most of us, our childhood is marked by a few split-second moments, captured on film, and perhaps a handful of super 8 movies which bring three minutes of the past back to us. These are the illustrations to the book we each keep, where we tell ourselves the story of our own lives.
Digital technology has changed all of that. I have literally thousands of pictures of Ricky. Even though my father was an avid photographer, there are, comparatively, only a handful of photographs of my childhood. This changes the way we experience and remember our lives in general, and travel in particular.
When I was small, and my family would take a vacation, we would to come back with one or two rolls of film, to be mailed off and processed. These came back as slides or prints. If they were prints, they were then placed in albums and put into the closet. If they were slides, they went into a carousel, and were placed in the same closet. Neither was brought out frequently or easily. When they did emerge, these images served as symbols of entire visits, signifying far more than they would actually depict. My father would view these shots and see them in context, as part of a continuity of experiences, and they would serve to bring out an entire story. For the child in the photo, though, they are just fragments, broken seconds from lost lives. We can draw conclusions from them, but we cannot relive them.
With digital cameras the nature of the pictures change. We no longer have a few scattered moments. We have dozens, hundreds, to choose from. We can tell the story many different ways. We can point out the things we saw, or how we looked there. We can focus on the times we were happy, or the times of distress. We can assemble a photographic diary which takes up no room at all, and which is indexed and available at our fingertips. We can create the illusion of continuity in our memories, with faith that little is being lost. That faith, though, is likely misplaced.
There is one other photo I have from the trip to Busch Gardens:
I am certain I have no independent memory of this, but the memories of viewing this photo over the past 35 years have taken over for any memories of the visit which I might have once had. The question is whether the memories of viewing the photo have pushed out other memories, or simply persisted while the other memories faded on their own. Since there are only two photos, I can say with great confidence that they have not created an alternate memory of the trip. But now, when we capture so many more images, what will be the effect? Will we more easily be able to place ourselves in the times and places we photograph, or will we simply place ourselves in the times and places where we viewed the photographs?