What Really Matters

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            The connection between family photographs and personal memory is heavily discussed by Barthes.  A personal photograph sparks unique memories that relate to one’s relationship to the photo and the circumstances surrounding it. As discussed by Barthes, photography captures a fleeting moment that will never be recreated. This moment, in turn, can be looked back on, but only in the new context of the present when one is looking at the photograph. In other words, that moment will never be remade, but re-imagined and analyzed through the new eyes of the viewer, which have been changed by time and experience.  A photo sparks a memory, but that memory is only a projection of what you specifically remember about that moment, and in reality may not portray the true circumstances of that past experience, but only what your memory projects on it. This memory then brings up present feelings which are brought to the surface by past feelings.

            This photo was taken many years ago at the Greenbrier Golf Resort. My parents and I went there directly after the school year ended. Immediately, when looking at this photo, I think not about the resort in a physical sense, but the bonding with my father that took place over that vacation and the time since. I imagine that moment as one of the cruxes to my adolescent relationship with my parents, but specifically my father. My memory projects a happy time, which I truly believe it was, but one where deeper relationships were still being formed. It is difficult for me to presently imagine a time when I was not close to my father, but when this photo was taken, we did not have nearly as strong a relationship as we do know. However, at first glance, all I think about is our solid relationship now.

            At the time, I was a very different person. Not only in age but in intellectual capacity and maturity. My father, on the other hand, has not changed a great deal since that photo was taken. When I look at the picture, it is easy for me to imagine what my father was like back then, because in most ways he is the same man now. However, it is excruciatingly difficult for me to imagine what I was like. I can only look back on the moment with my current knowledge and re-imagine what was going on in my head at the time. As Barthes discussed, we cannot relive the past moments, but only project our current knowledge on the past. When I do this, I think of my old self as a naive middle-schooler who did not see the big picture. At the time, at the specific moment that this picture was taken, I had only a few things on my mind. What were we doing later that day, what was I going to do over the summer, what were my dad and I going to talk about next? But, then again, maybe I was thinking none of these things and my memory is fooling me, it is imagining what I now think I would have been thinking when the picture was taken.

            I think I can remember what the robe felt like against my skin and the type of camera the picture was taken with, and what the hotel room looked like that we were sitting in. But these are all just thoughts. Before reading Barthes I would not have considered that my memories related to photographs could be so skewed. Of course, I would not think that everything I remembered was completely accurate, but most of my thoughts on the photograph would not have been scrutinized for being mere projections of memories that are created by current emotions and the experiences I have had between then and now.

            This discussion leads me to believe that photos are less about the actual image, and more about the things that one associates with that image. In other words, photography is about remembering things in a new way via looking at a reminder of something, and then interpreting a memory. 

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One thought on “What Really Matters

  1. Pingback: A Silent Affair | Picture It: Literature, Photography, and Memory

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