I read a piece this morning – I have forgotten where, and it’s too early in the year and too late in the week for me to summon the energy to find out – which was all about how to make sure your photos and videos are backed up safely, so that you can be absolutely sure you’ll never lose them. The author, whoever he was (I remember that he was a he), said that he has “thousands” of photos and videos of his children, and that he would be devastated were he to lose any of those precious memories.
But photos and videos aren’t memories, are they? They’re not even aides-memoires, I don’t think, because once a slice of a memory is sealed up inside a photo, you lose the rest of it. So I think I remember my sixth birthday party, but when I examine the memory, all I can really remember is being in the back garden holding my birthday cake, and that’s because there’s a photo of it. I don’t really remember it at all. Perhaps I would, if there wasn’t a photo, but in the same way you don’t bother remembering anyone’s phone number now that you have them all stored on your mobile phone, if we think that photos are a substitute for the act of remembering something then we might not bother to remember it.
I have been to Cyprus twice, once a year ago and once about ten years ago. I can’t remember exactly when I went the first time, because there isn’t a set on Flickr labelled with the dates of the trip, but I do remember the vivid red of the flowers growing outside our apartment, and the way the swimming pool seemed to melt into the sea (I had never heard of infinity pools then, but I think it was one), and I can still feel, if I try, the slight chill in the air that arrived on our last day and made the locals laugh at us for sunbathing.
But when I think about last year’s trip, which at the time I remember thinking was the nicest holiday I’d ever been on, I just see the photos in my mind’s eye. And the problem with that is that what you decide is a good subject for a photo is not the same as what you independently recall later, because your conscious mind isn’t necessarily the best judge of what will appeal to your unconscious mind. So you get photos of the sunset (I have SO MANY photos of sunsets, and they all look EXACTLY THE SAME), and of each other grinning (DITTO), and of cocktails and feral cats, but you probably miss the groyne covered in barnacles, or the blood-red roof that stands out like a flag against a bright blue sky, and you certainly miss the chill in the air and the taste of kleftiko, unless you put your camera down for five minutes and let yourself be in the moment, rather than frantically trying to record a facsimile of the moment for posterity, when it’s never a substitute for the real thing.
Once in a while I forget to take my camera somewhere, and although I love taking photos and I love having photos, I’m sometimes secretly glad that I can forget about keeping a record, and just be where I am for a bit.
The ideal solution, I think, is to live your life as though cameras don’t exist, but have three dedicated photographers recording your every move, so that you end up with a beautifully random set of photos which may or may not tally with your own recollection of events. I managed this on my wedding day, but I haven’t worked out how to make it happen the rest of the time. I’ll keep you posted.