Photographic Memory

Dear J-

Watch the traffic rolling by and close your eyes; do you hear the whirring of engines, or imagine a busy river?  I like the old story about the five blind men coming upon an elephant, each declaring, with justification, that they’d come upon a snake, tree, sheet, brush, or house, depending on which part they touched.  You would imagine that upon hearing the conflicting information they’d each take the time to verify each other’s conclusions, so that’s why the story adds a little addendum about how crochety and stubborn each one was.  Point is that we see so much and, as our primary sense, we believe it best.

Susan Sontag had some interesting thoughts about photography, including that it grew popular amongst cultures with veneration of long work hours (Germans, Americans, and Japanese) because it provided a pleasant sort of work in leisure time.  On vacation?  Sure, go document x, y, and z and bring back proof in some form.  The old cliche first assignment of “What I Did for Summer Break” is so familiar and trite because we’ve all had to do it at some point — I did a double-take when Godai recalled that he had the same assignment when he was little in Maison Ikkoku, more evidence that the inculcation of a work ethic starts young.

Photography serves as an exact record, in miniature, with less effort and expense than doing your own illustration or painting.  One of Sontag’s assertions is that everything has been photographed at one point, and it leads to a sort of overload where the impact of any one photograph is lessened, whereas when it was practiced by relatively fewer people and photographs were not as readily available, the impact of each was greater.  There’s some truth to it — I am guilty of the kittens-babies-sunsets variety on flickr myself — but in the whole I reject that.  Yes, photography plays up to only the visual sense, but there are so many different ways to depict a scene that the images we take and choose to share are inevitably tied to our own aesthetics.

Different people have different photographic styles, what they call a visual voice; it may degenerate to the form of self-parody but I’m reasonably sure that any number of people would be able to tell an Anne Geddes picture from an Annie Leibowitz one, for instance, or Helmut Lang from Duane Michals from Weegee from Arbus from Weston.  The good photographs tell complete stories with one sense — vision — and between voice, mood, and light, there’s so many different methods of relating experiences that  doubt we’ll ever truly capture all the possible images in the whole world.

Mike

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One Response to “Photographic Memory”

  1. Memory Improving Techniques - 5 Tips To Develop A Photographic Memory Says:

    […] Photographic Memory […]

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