Photography and Memory

I've always found vernacular photography and the interplay between photography and memory to be incredibly fascinating. Photography has played a significant role in my entire life. In my family, like many others, it was a common tradition to capture photos of special moments during holidays like Christmas and birthdays. Recently, I stumbled upon a box filled with pictures from my childhood. Let's take a closer look at the photo above.

Technically, the photo isn't of great quality—it's blurry and scratched. However, there are layers to uncover. From a sociological perspective, it reveals what Christmas looked like in the '70s: the modest Christmas tree and the three girls (my sisters and me) wearing identical dresses.

This photo holds a wealth of personal memories and emotions for me. Details like my grandmother's stolen brooch, which would be taken from the very house the picture was captured in years later, or the family painting on the wall that's barely recognizable because of the flash. It's not crucial that the photo is imperfect; it serves its purpose in preserving memories.

A few years back, I wrote my History of Art thesis on the complex relationship between "Photography and Memory." This dynamic is intriguing. Some argue that taking pictures prevents truly living in the moment, inhibiting memory. Others believe that photography aids memory, with Dutch writer Gerrit Krol suggesting that photos are the "tent poles of our memory."

One challenge with taking pictures for memory is not always knowing what to remember. Typically, only the highlights get documented, moments that are more or less interchangeable. Personally, I'd love to revisit my old room, see the posters on the wall, the bathroom with its beautiful blue and white tiling, my school bike, and the road to school. I wish I had images of the small things from all periods of my life. Sometimes these details can be found in a corner of a picture, but they're never the main focus. That's why I enjoy capturing photos of the houses I've lived in, the dashboard of the car, and other ordinary elements of daily life.

Vernacular photography, focusing on everyday life, is gaining global attention. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art held an exhibition in 1998 on "Snapshots: The Photography of Everyday Life." The British Journal of Photography regularly covers vernacular photography, and there are symposia and collections dedicated to it. An essay in Eye magazine by Val Williams and Eric Kessels provides an interesting perspective on the subject.