In-Camera Photos and Memory

Laurie says:

I talked about the idea that one of the things the photos might be about is memory, when I last posted about them.  I’m realizing that it’s true.  Their size and imagery is strongly reminiscent of the way my visual memory flashes intense internal images.  And I just realized something that probably should have been obvious to me. (The obvious in my work often blindsides me.) All of the images are from places that I live or go, that are central in my life.  I haven’t been going out looking for photos.  I’ve been seeing them in my normal moving through the world.  This strongly suggests some visual narrative ideas to me but I’m going to ignore them, and wait and see what evolves.

This is a quote on memory that resonates strongly for me.  It’s from a remarkable memoir, Giving Up The Ghost by Hilary Mantel.  (She also wrote Wolf Hall, which won the Booker this year.)

“ … We are born with our sensibilities; perhaps we are conceived that way.  Part of our difficulty in trusting ourselves is that in talking of memory we are inclined to use geological metaphors.  We talk about buried parts of our past and assume the most distant in time are the hardest to reach:  that one has to prospect for them with the help of a hypnotist or psychotherapist.  I don’t think memory is like that:  rather that it is like Saint Augustine’s “spreading limitless room.”  Or a great plain, a steppe, where the memories are laid side by side, at the same depth, like seeds under the soil.”

The two photos below were taken on the stairs of the Mechanics Library. It’s a private library in San Francisco that I belong to.

mechanics stairs5webjpeg 148


Writing about the work here has definitely been good for me.  It gives a context to think in that seems to accelerate my perceptions about it.

2 thoughts on “In-Camera Photos and Memory

  1. For personal reasons, thank you for the Mechanics Institute image. Some of the best memories of my life were in the Chess Room there, reading and writing while my late husband, Charles Powell, played in tournaments there. A part of him still is there, in a plaque for a tournament he won and his collection of chess books, and a few clocks, chessboards and sets that I donated to them.

    As Joni Mitchell sings, “I can’t go back there anymore” for a lot of logistical reasons, but the memories are as sharp as yesterday–what I was reading, the click of the chess clocks, the total concentration and quiet conversations of the players. Going down to the Mechanics Library part of the building when I needed another book. Those evocative stairs up into the stacks, like the ones you show.

    For me any sense memory from visual to auditory, can bring back a host of other senses, like how it felt to go up and down those marble steps and the solid/smooth of the wooden bannister in hand.

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