The question of what happens when photography isn’t available to capture a particular moment, or rather, a memory, has been one that my class has been attempting to tackle in my course on photography and the archive. This notion of absent memory is one that particularly touches me, the reason being that I am able to create this personal connection, drawing on my own experiences, in trying to understand how we remember the unphotographed.
All I have are reconstructions of my memory, that I have attempted to keep alive as best as I can; but even as hard as I have tried, there are always small details that I miss when going over what I constitute to have been true. The narration is in my own voice with what is said reading like a novel; I see the words but cannot hear the audio. The faces aren’t illustrated in their context, but rather, other photographs, such as staff headshots, take their place. I have wound up piecing together a memory with other memories so as to make up for what I cannot precisely recall.
There is no verification, though. Where the photograph may present a point of contention – having us confront our countermemory, there is nothing for the unphotographed apart from the subjective image projected in the mind. The witness is memory itself, but it is trustworthy only to a certain point. When we treat our memory with new context, our postmemory (what we know later to be “true”) interferes and mangles our previous thoughts. Conserving the actual memory is almost an impossible feat – sights are blurred at certain parts, whether it be the small details or faces, and what we hear is subjected to the mixing of our internal record studio, changing the tone and frequency of voices. It is to say that nothing is precise, even if we like to think it to be so.
In effect, absent memories have no bearing on which to ground them. They are abstract, clinging to whatever experience (to which one can relate) they can so as to cement themselves as a “memory,” and therefore not be forgotten.
I write all of this with brevity and with the assumption that the terms are understood. One can uncover the definitions of “countermemory” and “postmemory” via Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida and the notion of “absent memory” via Marita Sturken.
Image via Collective Memory Project