Roland Barthes has a love affair with the photograph in its objectivity; it is a disposable object with its own separate function and effect. As he ventures into the relationship between photography and memory, he seems to neglect the function and effect the latter. The memory that he often discusses can be defined as simply “Something remembered”(“definition of memory”). The memory for which many of us argue is “the mental faculty of retaining and recalling past experience” (“definition of memory”). This definition puts emphasis on the faculty, the subjective aspect of memory that fluctuates throughout time. I briefly explored objectivity and subjectivity in my first post when I bisected the idea of history presented in chapter twenty six of Camera Lucida. As I look over the posts of my classmates, I realize that a dichotomous relationship exists as a larger theme neglected throughout Barthes work that clashes with his audience’s desire to retain the significance of a memory associated with a photograph.
The quote that brings this problematic neglect to light declares, “Not only is the photograph never, in essence, a memory […] but it is actually […] becomes a counter memory” (Barthes 91). Many posts focused on the blocking of memory. However, with the word memory defined, “counter memory” becomes the key phrase in this passage. After telling the story of a touching photo that belonged to her mother, and the memory that her mother recalled from the photo, fbbillups states, “I will never truly know if there is any certainty in her words because it was not captured in a photograph (thank goodness…).” Fbbillups touches on the absolute uncertainty of a recalled memory, because what her mother shares cannot be proven through that particular photo. (Warning: crude material) In order for a photograph to prove the day of one’s conception, it would either have to capture the act with a date that matched that of scientific evidence of the date of conception (improbable), or it would have to capture the actual biological conception(impossibe), which even then could never be proven as the subject. The extent of disturbing (I apologize) technicalities demonstrates that the spectator values not the accuracy of the photo, but the counter memory. The counter memory in this situation is the recalled (or reconstructed) memory that lasted over time in her mother’s mind as a moment which conjures irreplaceable feelings that can never be proven or discounted. In other words, it is simply the current state of “something remembered” that has been slightly altered by the “mental faculty to recall” which has been guided by a photograph. The true moment can never be recalled with indisputable accuracy, which doesn’t matter either way.
While Barthes does not address the multiple perspectives of memory, he does slightly acknowledge the struggle of the human mind to maintain the significance of memory. He claims the photograph to be “superior to everything the human mind can or can have conceived to assure us of reality” (87). Jsl412 seems to agree with Barthes, when he states, “that moment will never be remade, but re-imagined and analyzed, through the new eyes of the viewer.” In examining an old photo of him and his father from a time period when his mental state was completely different, jsl412 realizes the struggle described by Barthes.Jsl412 can only remake, or reconstruct, a memory to surround the evidence shown by the picture. This also relates to one of Barthes earliest and simplest statements: “the photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially” (4). Jsl412 highlights this in his differentiation between re-creating a moment and re-imagining a moment.
Another post by Dwliu interacts with Barthes’s statement because its seemingly layered photo creates a mirage of memories. Dwilu explores a dichotomy of memory when she states, “real memories rise to the surface unannounced when I come across a random object, hear a moving piece of music, or smell a familiar scent. False memories […] center around a hazy image or story”. What she calls real memories may be remnants of true moments that are truly “something remembered”. What she calls false memories are the counter memories that the mind has formed in order to preserve the feelings that the original memory would provoke. Her post and layered photo demonstrate that the objectivity of a photograph with which Barthes obsesses falls short of our general desire to preserve sentiment and significance at all costs.
Barthes also seems to realize our need for sentiment, providing a sort of disclaimer: “we have an invincible resistance to believing in the past, in history, except in the form of myth” (87). I apply what he calls myth here to the counter/constructed memories we create to retain significance. Photography does not exactly cancel our resistance but it can serve as an obstacle, until we move our memories to accommodate the photo’s input. Our memory becomes reconstructed as time changes, but its main faculty is in preserving a feeling. It becomes a counter memory when evidence provided from the true memory, such as a photo, forces the mind to work around this information to retain the feeling. In any case, it seems that the lasting memory still remains dear to the spectator no matter what alterations occur, and that the significance of the photo will always remain second to the significance of the memory.
“Definition of Memory.” Dictionary, Encyclopedia and Thesaurus – The Free Dictionary. Farlex, Inc., 2012. Web. 16 Feb. 2012. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/.