Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Images Creating Memories: Busch Gardens

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?

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  1. Wow! I have absolutely no recollection of the vacation to Busch Gardens. I do know that the big birds surrounding us must have completely freaked me out. Posing for family pictures was always a stressful experience for a myriad of reasons. Each picture has a history of yelling, grabbing, and forced smiles to be picture perfect.
    As far as digital pictures are concerned I think we loose some of the "oops" factors. How many times have you ever deleted a photo due to an uncomplimentary angle or sudden movement? Do you think more images makes the real or imagined memories have more impact?

  2. I am steadfastly opposed to deleting the ugly pictures, something that rarely appeals to the people in the pictures. I don't mind, because I think I look silly in every picture I am in, but other people who have something to lose don't always like it.
    I think the pictures change the impact of the memories, but don't create them or destroy them. You don't remember the Busch Garden trip, but now you can imagine the scene based upon what happened in every other picture we were in. You know something happened, even if you don't have a memory of it. I think that's what the pictures do - they remind us, but don't replace the memories.

  3. I like imagining what came before and after the moment the photo is snapped. For instance, the photo of the turkey attacking our picnic lunch at the park.
    I forgot that you do like to look silly in your photos ; ) We should do a photo tribute to your silliest looks. By the way Jake is completely obsessed with meeting y'all in Egypt!

  4. You must come to Egypt! It's instructional travel. Imagine the pic of all of us in front of the Pyramids! ;) Bryan can make faces if he wants.

  5. Listen to Jake! Come to Egypt! We're flying into Cairo from South Africa on Valentines Day, and our plans are completely fluid from that point on. I dare you!

  6. If not for photographs and old friends, I'd have no memories! With this Swiss cheese I have for a memory, I need the digital age to keep track of my life.

  7. I kinda wish we could come, but to be honest I am trying to live within a budget this year. The snow storm of last year ended up costing a bundle in household repairs ie new gutters, destroyed trees, tree removals, and new trees. Hmmmm...I will enjoy following your travels online and hope to see lots more posts. @Ana--the picture in front of the pyramid would be awesome....

  8. Well, if you decide to come out of your budget a bit, we could always meet up someplace closer. Otherwise you'll have to meet up with us online, and frequently. We love your posts!