the persistence of memory

Photograph: Front to back: Celeste and strangers, Centennial Park, 2008

That’s Celeste, standing at the bottom left corner of the photograph, contemplating The Parthenon in Centennial Park. Her back is turned away from the camera because she’s superstitious. “Cameras will steal your soul!” She would squawk at anyone holding a camera — even camera phones were seen as a source of evil. Not surprisingly, she owns an electronic dinosaur that is only capable of making phone calls. Celeste takes pride in liking old things (“They have history, which means they have character.”) and she takes pride in following traditions (“If everyone else did these things at one point, then they must be worthy past-times.”) Apparently, visiting Centennial Park and viewing the Parthenon applied to both interests. The park certainly had history and as we were new inhabitants of the city, the visit seemed inevitable.

Upon finally arriving at this spot, Celeste stopped for a moment to take it all in. A minute later she turned around and stated, “There are so many people. Why are there so many of them?” Disappointment seeped into her voice. It seemed to surprise her that other people might want to enjoy a day at a public, historical park. Without waiting for a response, she gestured for me to take a photograph. “We might as well document it, since we’re here already. But, make sure I’m not in the photograph.” For some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to crop her out.

She stands there, arms dropped at her sides, unaware of the camera’s film stealing the light emanating from her. The girl who adores old things caught in the same frame as the object of her affections. History in the making and history already made.

* * *

Fiction.

I was surprised to find out that Ronit Matalon’s The One Facing Us was a work of fiction. No, I told myself, it must be a memoir. But sure enough, on the back cover no less, sits the word ‘fiction’ in small bolded letters. Even though her narrative is highly confusing at times, there is a sense of truth behind every word. The photographs (and lack thereof) support her prose — they bring authenticity to her story. Inspired by this quality of her work, I tried to bring this sense of fabricated reality to my Place project.

You know that story about my friend Celeste? It is also a work of fiction. Her name is not Celeste. She is not afraid of being photographed. It was not her idea to visit Centennial Park; it was mine. But if I had been lying before, how do you that I am telling you the truth now? Her name is Natalie. You will have to take my word for it. The same goes for whose idea it was to go to the park. But as for Natalie’s aversion to being photographed, that I can prove false with photographic evidence.

Photograph: Natalie sitting upon the steps of the Parthenon, Centennial Park, 2010

Photograph: Natalie enjoying the sunny afternoon on the lawn, Centennial Park, 2010

Photograph: Natalie contemplating her snow bowl, Centennial Park, 2010

It is odd that I have to use more photographs to prove that Natalie is indeed Natalie, and that she is not afraid of being photographed because I struggled to create the short fictional narrative about Celeste. I am not sure how Matalon managed to write such an elaborate story from her photographs. Perhaps she is a better storyteller than I am, or perhaps, her memories associated with her photographs are not as vivid as the ones I associate with my photographs.

While shuffling through the archive of images in my computer, my memories came floating back as I looked at each photograph. It felt impossible to fashion a brief fiction about any image because I could not disassociate myself with the memories attached to each photograph. I would start writing but then I would realize I was writing about the actual memory instead of a fabricated one. My memories were persistent. They refused to be ignored. I could not escape them. It was not until I came across the photograph of Natalie standing across the street from the Parthenon that my exasperation died down a little. Despite the fact that the Parthenon is clearly in view (a sure sign that we were in Centennial Park), this had been a throwaway photo as far as vivid memories go. I only remember wanting to take a photograph of the front of the building but Natalie happened to be standing there, so why not include her?

Photograph: Natalie across the street from Parthenon, Centennial Park, 2010

But there was a problem. Even though the original photograph was not vivid in memory, it was vivid in color (and terribly distracting). I decided to remove the color and it helped a great deal. Since I do not view the world in black and white, the photograph seemed to belong to someone else’s memory. It became a photograph from an alternate reality, so it was not difficult to imagine a scenario in this other world. Natalie became Celeste and significantly more neurotic, but Centennial Park remained because the Parthenon could not be ignored. I could easily change the names of faceless people, but it is difficult to change the name of a well known, historical monument. I still wanted to retain a degree of reality as Matalon did with her story.

I feel as if my narrative is believable, but it also somewhat worries me. The more I look at the black and white version of the photograph, the more I feel as if the photograph is no longer mine. As if my slight memory of this experience is already disappearing. What if, far off in the future, when my memories have been worn down by time, the fabricated reality that I created for this one photo becomes the actual memory that I associate with this photograph?

I am sure that I will recognize the Parthenon and Centennial Park.

But what if I remember not carefree Natalie, but neurotic Celeste?

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4 thoughts on “the persistence of memory

  1. Diana, I explored a similar subject in my second post. Like you, I am very interested in the discrepancy between writing and photography. Your commentary on associated (or transferrable) memory in regards to writing (fiction) and photography is interesting. I also thought it was effective that you toyed not only with the idea of creating a false reality through your fictional story, but also through your photography by changing the real photo you took from color to black and white.

    If you plan to expand this essay further for your final essay, it could be interesting and effective to compare Barthes to Matalon in their different (or similar) approaches to addressing the link between photography and writing, and how this connection is related to memory as a whole.

  2. I absolutely loved your approach to discuss the topic of writing versus photography. In fact the aspect of you no longer holding ownership of the photograph due to the fictional story and photo editing had me considering how technology and language hinder our perspectives of even our own photographs. I’m not sure how you were hoping to expand this for your final paper but it may be interesting to delve further into this idea. You can even go into the discussion of modern technology (such as iPhone pictures, Mobile Uploading, and apps like Instagram) and how its modes affect our experience with taking/viewing photographs. Do these technologies inhibit our ability to accurately remember events? (Just as your fictional story had begun to distort your memories of this day with Natalie?)

  3. Diana, your fictional narrative is very successful in mimicking Matalon’s. This essay is great because you really strongly weave the concept and implications of photography in with your fictional story and your reflections on what it means that this story was in fact fictional. Manipulating the first photograph and turning it into color does indeed change the effect it has on the viewer. The black and white suggests nostalgia, as we’ve discussed in class, and a sense of timelessness that collaborates well with your story, and the color seems to ground the image in more of a real-world setting.
    You also facilitate a conversation about your memory of that day and how the photographs interact with it. I They clearly help your memories in this case, although you bring up a good and troubling point that a photograph, though highlighting the “that-has-been”, could take a story or a memory a number of ways other than the truth.
    In terms of expanding for the final paper, you might want to think about continuing to build that first narrative using the same language of a memoir and see what concepts you can introduce to strengthen the relationship between the story and photography. I’d also be interested to see more of your thoughts on the coloration of the photographs. Do the color photographs give the photos more truth for you? Why are you bothered and distracted by the colors on that original photograph? What does that distraction say about the nature of color photography as opposed to black and white?

  4. I found your approach to this project very creative and fitting with regards to the texts we have read. I absolutely believed your fictional story and then to come to the moment in which the word “Fiction” was typed, was very jarring. It was as though I felt robbed because in my mind, text plus photographs equals fact. Photographs that accompany text must act as evidence. That at least is what I have been taught (either explicitly or implicitly) over time and having that truth revoked made me feel victimized. It is interesting to consider why it is that so many of us associate text in combination with images with truth. Toying with this concept made me consider this question and I was left thinking of news stories, which use photographs to back up their stories. Making the photograph black and white was also an interesting adjustment. I wonder if other edits would have produced a similar feeling of attachment or if it would have been possible to cast a filter upon your original photograph that made the picture seem even more real. Great work, I really enjoyed this piece.

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