memory

memory

A core theme of my photography (and poetry) is memory.

Photography opposes memory. Unlike memory, it takes work to make a fake photograph. Unlike memory, if you give a photograph no attention it does not change: the people in the photograph are not swapped, the location is not adjusted, the details are not lost or invented. Unlike memory, photography is reliable.

Memory is false, memory is invented, memory is malleable, memory is constructed. If you believe memory is about recalling things past, then memory is the most fallible human ability. What you may remember about a family disaster that happened a long time ago will be quite different to what another member of your family remembers, and both will have little in common with the reality. To me, human memory is not so much a record of things experienced, it’s more a reality–seeded creation to allow ego to live with conscience. It’s as fake as boobs the size of Leicester.

Memory errors are one form of cognitive bias, the long list of errors humans have evolved to keep themselves in the wrong. Beyond that, there’s the errors of perception; what’s seen before being made into memory is often false as well. It might seem amazing we can function given all these failings; in fact, these failings can be used to keep things running smoothly.

All this is why I feel the perfection of photography contradicts the needs and nature of humanity.

It’s interesting, though, that many people cannot accept their memory is flawed. One of the most naïve statements said is one of the most common: “I know what I saw”. I have memories of seeing a UFO, and driving through the end of a rainbow, and even though those memories are strong in my mind, I know they are not real. Everyone has false memories. Not everyone realises it. Indeed, it’s quite difficult to realise it: it requires acceptance of imperfection, of ego fallibility; it requires maturity.

That’s why I suggest the perfection of photography serves to reinforce human failing. People see photographs are perfect, and by association many feel their memories are just as perfect. It’s no coincidence that a good memory is called a photographic memory.

This is why it is important to mar photographs. Damage them, break them up, make them imperfect: remind people that memory is full of egomaniac fabrications. At the very least, do not hide imperfections they gather over time. Sometimes, those imperfections make something beautiful. Usually, they’re just grit and grime.

Since all memory is flawed, since a good memory is photographic memory, my work draws attention to the imperfections of memory over time with photographs that are flawed by time. That’s why many of my old photographs, rescanned here, are not cleaned. Cleaning a photograph is like cleaning an alibi: it’s telling a lie. The humanity is in the imperfections, the scratches, the dust. My photography is reality, and will stay that way.

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