I recently finished Sally Manns book “Hold Still”. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and highly recommend it. Some of what she talks about is the ability of photographs to corrupt our memories, something I have been thinking a lot about lately myself. The idea began at the Flash Powder Retreat and I have been noticing more people write about memory in how it relates to what we are seeing with Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
Hold Still talks about how the photograph corrupts your memories of what happened, they are just a small sliver in time. For instance, if the only photo of me that survives me is one of me snarling and in a bad mood, will my great grandchild look at that and think I was an angry person? Maybe I am smiling because I am an evil bastard and did something bad. They are not very accurate depictions of people and their true nature.
The blog, Thoughts of a Bohemian Photographer talks about how photos are used throughout time. In the past, photos were taken to compensate for our poor memories of people, things and events we did in the era of Kodak. We would remember the photos better than the actual event, something Sally Mann and Paul Melcher talk about. With digital and Facebook, it became photos of things I am doing or eating, more a form of communication to show a highly curated view of my life. Look at the wonderful vacation I am on, the great food I am eating, and the cool people I am with. Now we have Instagram, where people are using it as a way to directly communicate. A Selfie of a sad face or even more directly, text over the image with apps like Over to express themselves because writing just takes too long. A photo of my food, regardless of whether it is a gourmet meal or a bowl of cheerios. In all of these things, image quality is not important as long as the information is there.
We have a generation of people who are becoming the most visually sophisticate audience ever. So many images are taken that most will not even be remembered or for that matter stored. They are constantly bombarded with images and they still want more. They also have the biggest risk of losing all of their photos, a whole generation wiped out due to outdated hardware, failures and lack of physical prints.
I grew up in a generation that used Polaroids for everything. The idea on an instant image was an amazing concept at that time. I guess that is why I have had such a connection to them lately. I have been working on a project for quite a few years using film from the Impossible Project. A lot of the film at that time was experimental and quite often faded or degenerated. I had scanned most of them before that happened, but two events in my life recently have made me take the project in a different way. The first was moving to Brooklyn. I had not looked at the Polaroids in a long time and while unpacking I noticed how much most of them have degraded. The second event was the passing of my Uncle Jim. Before his funeral I was trying to find images of him that I had in family albums. I was looking through a lot of old family photos and I noticed something as well. How the photos I saw represented a different reality than what existed, basically what Sally Mann was talking about. In my life, how could I go through life and not see something was wrong with what was right in front of me the whole time. Most of my work concentrates on the external world around me; the next series will be more internal.