Let us take a photograph, any photograph, and look at it. That done, let us now ask ourselves the question: do we see the photographic in the photograph? Clearly, we immediately sense that something is not altogether right in that question; some kind of craft is being practised there; this phantom interrogator, we firmly paranoically believe, is bewitchingly trying to carefully entice us into endless cogitations only, once that is achieved, to leave us limping on the edge of the otzar of metaphysical nothingness. We could ask our invisible interrogator: “what is meant by the word photographic which we are meant to be seeing in the photograph?” And cunningly the interrogator will craftily retort: “first, individually ask yourselves: do I see a photograph?”
And surely, we will all answer in the affirmative.
Let us now introduce into the scene a painter. The painter will carefully reproduce the contents of each of our selected photographs on the very photographs themselves. The photographs will act as the not-so-bare canvases for the painter to paint upon. The painter will perform the whole process in front of our eyes. Little by little, we will witness the erasure of the photographs with brushwork that clearly emulates that which it is effacing.
The paintings are ready! Let us now ask ourselves: do we see the photographs?
Clearly, we don’t – the photographs have been effaced with paint. But since the paint clearly emulates that which we remember of the original photographs, we might say that we see the photographs embedded in the paint. Or, even better, we might say that through the careful configuration of the paintwork, we remember the original photographs. After all, we might say, the paintings look like the original photographs.
From this argument, we can infer that the photographic is memory. Ta-dah!
If the photographic is memory, how do I perceive and experience the photographic in a photograph which does not belong to my personal history? A memory, understood in its simplest form, is a set of dynamics that when inputted into and computed by a cogent system makes the cogent individual experiencing the memory feel a sensation that put in words would read: “I remember”.
A memory, understood as a set of dynamics that when inputted into and computed by a cogent system makes the cogent individual experiencing the memory feel a sensation that put in words would read: “I remember”, is a ubiquitous phenomenon because all cogent individuals can at any point in time utter “I remember”, experiencing that which it is they are perceiving as a memory.
There is no difference between a true memory and a false memory (one that is not rooted in an event that really occurred in the past) for what matters is the experience that put in words reads: “I remember”.
The world is history, and history is always in the past tense. Any experience that put in words reads: “I remember”, is an enactment on that bare stage which we call the past (which is infinite in possibilities… just like the future). In experiencing an experience that put in words reads: “I remember”, the tens of selves that are reflected in that endless hall of mirrors acquiesce and become the now. I remember, and therefore I am.
The past, being past, is necessarily photographic… if I’ve been photographed, I must have existed. Memories are necessarily true.
The project I am currently working on in relation to my studies’ final major project (click here to see this work in progress), revisits the memory of a photograph, now lost, of a shipbuilding crane taken in childhood. Since the original photograph that prompted this memory is now lost, there is no evidence to attest to the correctness of the memory of that photograph of the shipbuilding crane. But what I clearly remember about this photograph, and what I remember had struck me back then, when I was seven years old, holding the photograph in my hands for the first time after I had just collected it from the printer, was its technical excellence. Clearly, a seven-year-old could not have taken such a well-executed photograph. Due to its technical merits, the photograph carried with it a futurity. The photograph was created then, but only became plausible now.
I have amassed a collection of pretty photographs of shipbuilding cranes found on the island. These have all been summoned, so to speak, by that original photograph taken in childhood, which is absent amongst them.
TheoJunior. 2018. Lethe. Flickr [online]. Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/theojunior/41013741964 [accessed 29 November 2019]. License available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/legalcode [original image not modified].