Transferring Memory: The Collective Memory

In reading Sebald, I was fascinated by the idea of the transferring of memory. In Max Ferber, Ferber gives his mother’s memoirs to the narrator because her collection of remembrance is simply too much for him to bear. Ferber literally transfers the burden of memory to the narrator because he simply cannot sustain its weight. And yet, these are not Ferber’s own memories…they are his mothers. In turn, the narrator is tormented by these memoirs. Like Ferber, he is haunted by memories that are not his.

In thinking about this conveying of emotions to outside parties who did not experience those memories directly, I think it is interesting to consider photographer Jessica Ingram. Her work consists of photographs of sites where past violence occurred. The images seem innocent, even beautiful, and yet, they hold such horrific histories behind their attractive surfaces. While Ingram was not present at the actual events, and thus the memories hinted at by her photographs are not her own, she is deeply burdened and tortured by their reality. Like Ferber and the narrator, she is plagued and laden by recollections that are not her own.

In considering this transcendence of memory in both Sebald and Ingram’s work, it is interesting to see how exactly this is achieved. For Sebald, memories are conveyed through a personal memoir—through the private words of the individual who experienced them. Ingram, however, shows this progression of memory through the art of photography—bestowing the weight of her burden of emotion to the rest of the world through image. However, these are not the only ways that people ease the disturbing mass of memory. For generations memory has been communicated through oral stories, films, textbooks, etc. Of these different means of transference, which is the most effective? Is it words? Image?

The above photograph is not my own. In fact, it is merely one that I found after a quick Google search of the word, “Holocaust.” Inspired by the work and progressive thinking of Christian Boltanski, I employed Photoshop to distort this image, over-exposing the faces of these Jewish children so that they become merely suggestions of their former referents. In looking at this photograph, even without a title or the context of a date, we know what historical event is linked to this photograph. The image, on its own, calls up a horrific world memory that we all, collectively, feel, whether or not we experienced it. While this brings up many questions about humanity, recollection, the power of image, etc, I simply want to ask, when does a memory become collective?



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