Photography, memory and place

“… in Photography, I can never deny that the thing has been there. There is a superimposition here: of reality and of the past. And since this constraint exists only for Photography, we must consider it, by reduction, as the very essence, the noeme of Photography.” (Barthes 1982,p.76)

Photographic images affect the way we remember moments we experienced ourselves, and our impressions of things we experience via the image alone. Barthes also proposes how the photograph can act as a “counter-memory”, aggressively blocking impressions formed by our other senses as it “fills the sight by force” (ibid, p. 91 quoted Alexander 2013p107).

Many practitioners have engaged with idead of personal memories (family albums, holidays) in one form or another:

  • Trish Morrissey
  • Gillian Wearing
  • Joachim Schmid.
  • Peter Kane goes back to places depicted in his family’s photo album and re-photographs and superimposes the images.

Photography has also been used to explore and challenge the construction of collective memories (eg documentation of ‘early’ or ‘late’ photography as well as events unfolding)

  • Shimon Attie uses contemporary media to explore relationships between space,time, place and identity working with communities to find new ways of representing their history.
  • Jeff Wall produces large tableaux of events, or staged events, referencing the way history painting interpreted and often glorified historical events.
  • Luc Delahaye also references history painting, using large format analogue cameras to document meetings, political ceremonies and war zones.

But as Bates cautions (see also my reaction to Meyerowitz):

“As sites of memory, photographic images (whether digital or analogue) offer not a view on history but, as mnemonic devices, are perceptual phenomena upon which a historical representation may be constructed. Social memory is interfered with by photography precisely because of its affective and subjective status…in terms of history and memory, photographs demand analysis rather than hypnotic reverie’ (Bate The Memory of Photography pp255-256)

The matter of ‘reality’ is an important aspect to consider in relation to all areas of photography: who is recording what, why, for whom and why?

3.5: Local history

3.6: ‘The Memory of Photography