Monday, January 19, 2015

Photography and Memory...

   My genealogical research has been wonderfully illuminating.  The best part of it has been the real feeling of connection I have with not only my past but my ancestor's lives...even the ones I never knew.  I've done it primarily through the visual image, like this old Polaroid given to me by my cousin.

   The bridge is long gone, the area filled in, but it lives here in this little image stored away for nearly 40 years.  In the creation of my digital scrapbook, I try to use as many photographs as possible and if I don't have a photograph of a particular person, I photograph objects from their lives or the places they lived.   Endless lists of names and dates, which is typical in most genealogical books, while interesting and necessary, are sorely incomplete for me.  I need a visual link.  That is the photographer in me, I think.

   I suppose a vast percentage of photographs created each day are meant to record something.   A "I saw this, I was here and these people were with me" sort of thing.  So many are shared and then forgotten.  There is even a site where you can share an image and it disappears after a few days...automatically.  We are a momentary and continually transforming culture...look at it, add a comment like LOL or OMG and then move on.  I guess contemplative photography is the antithesis of that mindset.

   Photographs can be so much more than mere records of the past, they can be triggers to deep and personal reflection as well.  This one of the old bridge that was less than a quarter mile from my childhood home brought out all sorts of recollections for me and one was that the physical places from our lives, past or present, can have a meaning that goes far beyond what a photograph can capture. In this case, it was the idea that a place can be where we proved our courage by sitting high up on the bank below it as a train rumbled through.  Fool hearty surely but it was a childhood right of passage nonetheless.

    When we look into rather than at these photographs
 we will find some hidden corner of our own soul 
and that is surely worth the effort.


gina said...

This post really touched me. My mother grew up in Europe and she told so many stories of her childhood on the family farm. When I finally got to visit the farm in the early 90s, it was so meaningful to me to finally see it and photograph it. When a distant cousin brought out an old chair that my grandfather (who I never met) made, I started to cry -- to actually touch something that my grandfather made brought me so much closer to him, and I treasure the photo that I took of it.

Patricia Turner said...

Thank you Gina! I truly believe that the photograph can trigger emotions that words can never do. My genealogical project has elicited the same sorts of responses in me.