Memesis and Memory \\
This body of work revisits Zoe Moncktons' Catholic school, offering a personal reflection into a nostalgic and somewhat idealised childhood space. This series closely explores Roland Barthes' theory of photography and memory, reinforcing the theme of social interest that runs through her work.
Photographs are objects, which hold expressive and cultural meaning in both art and in everyday life. It is believed that they are objects capable of arousing memories and nostalgia from the past. It is considered that the past may often be re-experienced through photographs, personal to us such as family photographs, producing feelings of loss, or ambiguity.
Memory is not part of these objects, obviously. It is a human mental instrument to recreate the past and situate it with the present.
“Memory holds together past and present, gives continuity and dignity to human life... the companion...the tutor, the poet, the library, with which you travel.” (Mark van Doren, n.d)
In trying to understand the relationship between the photographic image and memory, it may be that we have to have first an understanding of how photography works in relation to subject and time. Photography is often recognised as a medium that ‘captures the moment’, “For the history of photographic image is the documentation of the isolated instant, the power of an image is its ability or inability to freeze reality in time.” (Sontag, 1977)
Photographs may act as a medium of ‘truth’, reality etc, and as a medium of memory. It may be considered simply as an ‘object’, the result of a mechanical process. But what is the relationship between the mind and the photograph. How do the photograph and the human memory interact?
Once we have an understanding of how photography captures subject and time we may have a clearer understanding of how it may be used to illustrate that once captured moment in time and thus, reflecting on this image, provide an understanding of the effect it may have on one’s memory. The photographic image is the documentation of the isolated instant and has the ability to freeze reality in time.
To understand memory in the context of photography it is helpful to firstly address Susan Sontag’s ‘On Photography’. In the chapter ‘The Image World’ she defines photography as separated into four distinct forms. The first, as its simplest, she states, is that the photograph is a by-product of the desire to possess a cherished person or thing. This ‘possession’, she argues, gives photographs the unique character they hold.
Secondly, she states that we also have a consumer’s relationship to these objects. Not only do we consume the images of events we have been captured in, or those of people we know, but also we consume images of the one’s we have no connection with, i.e. we consume images in general. These images help to create two very different experiences of reality, she argues, which we store in our memory.
Leading on from this, the third idea is that, through creating images and duplicating them one may obtain these captured images not as experience, but as information. Sontag concluded that by photographing or being photographed a part of this experience filters into an informative system whereby the experience becomes part of our memory, whether it be one’s family holiday snapshots or an advert seen. Memory thus becomes a by-product of visual experience, causing many events to enter our subconscious and be stored as images. These images may only be ‘conjured’ back into the consciousness once one is reminded visually of that experience or when one seeks to remember it.
In her argument Sontag also addresses her concern that real experience can be replaced by this image-world which one surrounds oneself with, photography replacing the real with representation. This affects the mind’s interpretation of the real, and, in turn, affects the memory.
“Such images indeed usurp reality because first of all a photograph is not only an image (as a painting is an image), an interpretation of the real; it is also a trace, something directly stencilled off the real, like a footprint or a death mask.” (Sontag, 1977)