Accurate documentation?

We’ve discussed how photographs preserve memory and document things exactly as they are. In “Camera Lucida,” Barthes spends quite a bit of time discussing the importance of small details that make a big impact. Significantly, many of these details might not have been noticed had the photograph not been taken.

I took this photo of a walkway I take every single day. Thinking about photography as a tool for documentation and preserving memories, I intentionally took this photo quickly, moving my camera swiftly away as soon as I pressed the button. Why? This is the way I truly see this place. Walking past this scene everyday, I barely glance at it. If I tried to conjure this scene from memory, it would probably look a lot like this blurry photo. Rushing to and from class, I barely pay attention to my surroundings in this particular area. There is nothing especially stunning about this path that has ever made me stop and appreciate it. The result of this is that my visual memory of this area is quite lacking in detail. Like in the photo, I remember that there is a tree, buildings in the distance, cars in a parking lot, etc. But, also like in the photo, none of these things are in focus in my memory.

To me, despite it’s blurriness, this photo is a legitimate documentation of my walk to class in the morning and the walk back in the afternoon. With this photo, it’s hard to discover any special details that Barthes finds essential to an interesting photograph. Looking at it, I won’t be able to recall the precise details of what I saw on this path. If I had taken an in-focus photograph I would. However, this blurry picture better represents my subjective memory of this place. It is a place where I don’t pay attention to details. It’s a place where I’m walking fast and not looking around me. It’s a place where I feel hurried. WIth the blurriness of this photo, I think I’ve done something towards recreating that memory of rushing, often stressed about getting to class on time or anxious to move on with my day after class ends.

So what does it mean to truly document a moment or a scene? Would an in-focus photo be a better record of this place at this time? Can a less detailed photograph provide more insight into a place than a detailed one can? For me, subjectively, the answer to the last question is yes.


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