Photography as Memory

by Joshywashington Nov 1, 2010
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PHOTOGRAPHS ARE vital to illustrating our story, but some pictures transcend the moment and help give us our meaning.

Two people on the beach, one child and one man.

The kid is wet and has recently been kneeling in the sand. The man bends over and pulls up his right hand that grasps a tube of wet sand, exposing the first tower of a sandcastle.

There is a slow gritty slurp as the plastic relinquishes the sand .

I enjoy this photograph of my father and I for more than sentimental reasons. The photograph doesn’t remind me of the event, it doesn’t merely elicit a memory.

The photograph IS the memory.

The details of this family trip to the ocean are lost to me. This faded moment captured by my pregnant mother is the entirety of the experience for me. This illustrates a rare breed of photograph that transcends the moment captured to become something more significant.

The happenstance elements of this photo; my dads farmer tan, the crashed plastic helicopter and the can of Olympia beer, all conspire to embody my young life in one summer moment.

Photos help us tell our story, to our friends and followers as much as to ourselves. A single picture can define a continent, a love, a night, a truth, a year, a decade. A hasty snapshot can be the only evidence of a brief friendship.

Since any given journey can produce thousands of photos from a vagabond shutterbug, how do we take pictures that transcend the moment to embody a memory?

What special quality do such pictures hold? I don’t think it is some photographic technique, some play of light or focus point. So what is it?

Is the perspective of time?
Is it the warm sadness of thing lost or abandoned?
Is it the need to create a trail of idyllic evidence that points to a full and happy journey?
I don’t know. Maybe it is the willingness of the observer to unpack their baggage at the doorstep of the photograph and ask humbly to be let in.

*From pro photographers to someone just getting started with a DSLR, the MatadorU travel photography course was created to serve a variety of students.

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