Some thoughts on pictures and memories

(JonasK) #1

I realised the following after moving all my stuff to a new apartment.

I’ve never been the guy to take lots of pictures. All the pictures I’ve uploaded to my facebook are mostly in-jokes and/or poorly photoshopped pictures. Sometimes people ask me why, my answer is “why should I bother”, to which a speech about keeping memories is valuable usually follows. Here’s the point (or at least some of it):

I don’t need to keep tracks of my past through photography. If I experience something great, I will always have an artifact of that in another form, music to be specific. My first year at university has been amazing, and there’s no pictures to document that, what I do have is hours worth of sheet music. Every piece of music I’ve touched during this past year, has one or more memories attached to it. And I now realise that from picking up some of those pieces and looking at the music I can not only re-imagine past events, but I can to a certain degree also re-live them, which is a lot more valuable in my eyes.


I’m on the opposite side: I take TOO MANY photographs but get a lot out of them. These days, mostly of my kids.

My wife and I love looking through those photos, and we always find stuff to laugh about. I love the ones that didn’t come out “perfect”, and we actually made a photo book to have lying around (nobody wants to sift through 10000 pictures on the computer just to see a photo or two of their kids!) that contains nothing but accidentally hilarious shots. Faces accidentally or intentionally screwed up. Food messes. Kid caught wearing dad’s rain boots.

I have great memories of a trip I took to Australia with a good friend. Not many photos, and I never feel the urge to look at them in order to enjoy my memories. I can reconstruct the important stuff and I think in many ways it’s better that way. So I know your feels, Jonas!

But I don’t have a good memory for small things, even when they’re delightful. No matter what, I will always remember what kind of baby, toddler, and kid my son is. I’ll remember him laughing as we play his favourite game, “chase” (it’s a complicated game). I’ll remember that he’s precocious and that when he wakes up late at night to use the bathroom, if he catches me awake he will ask in a quiet cracked little voice, “Can I have a little cuddle?”

But in 10 years, or even 5, I won’t remember exactly what he looked like at age 2 wearing my rain boots. And I want to remember that, because it’s cute and funny, and it also makes me think about those times. The “I don’t need a photo to remember this!” stuff is catalysed (ironically) by the photograph.

We also see our kids “how they are”. I have another son, a baby, and when I think of my older son as a baby, I can’t stop myself from filling my younger son’s face into the “blank”. The brain is funny and plastic and it just won’t always let me remember how my older son looked at that age. But I can look at that photo and be reminded, “This is him at age 2. Look at that beautiful little bugger!”

So, I value memories. Photographs are not memories, and we don’t store our memories in there. Anyone who says otherwise is misunderstanding. But I value photographs because they capture things our memories won’t hold on to (danged brains… so finicky!) and help our actual memories to surface.

Great post, Jonas! Love these kinds of discussions.