Pictures of You – / Magazine (Fall ’05)

Another piece for / Magazine.

As I walk through the Louvre, the sheer volume of artistic works astounds me. My oft-sounded complaint that we will never possibly comprehend the mass of works created in our own time grows faint in the even greater presence of such magnificent works. I take my time, spending as much of my attention on whatever interests me, knowing that all I will really get out of this is what I put into it. Around hour two of being bludgeoned by art, a fellow traveler stops me in my tracks with his own method of experiencing the history of art culture. He is crouched over, eyes fixed on the pixilated screen of a digital camera, intent on filming every inch of canvas for later downloading. I am positive that such an exercise will prove to do three things:
1. ensure that the videographer would have no specific memory of ever being in the Louvre
2. exhibit the poor quality of his filming skills
3. become another useless artifact, existing only as proof that he was there – never undergoing a second viewing

Truly dependent creatures are we that catalogue and configure all our memories into easily accessible compartments, only to leave them closed. Satisfied by the knowledge that they will be there when we need them. Forever do we spend our time creating more documents and images, with less time to arrange them as such. Are they at all memories then if never to be revisited? Just wasted thoughts, wasted images, wasted experiences sealed in silicon.

slash-011.jpgIn Chuck Palahniuk’s collection of essays, Non-Fiction (or Stranger Than Fiction depending on where you find it), he contemplates the nature of note taking as a heavily weighted crutch on which our memory supports itself. He meditates on Plato’s notion of writing itself as a pharmakon (a Greek term meaning drug and implying both the positive and negative aspects of its use) and its inferiority both to spoken word and drama as a means of communication. Note taking then, is a further remove from the kind of clear thought transactions that are to be held as ideal.

We can extend the notion even further into our collective short-term unconscious. Our sense of note-taking – which includes any physical manifestation created to convey a memory – is a multi-media experience that plays a huge role in our concept of identity and reality and has inevitably weakened our power to understand our own thoughts and experiences.

For years now, capturing the visual element of memories is more than just photographs. How many of us can remember the actual instances that our parents preserved? Not many, because more likely than not, we were too busy partaking in the moment. The things we remember best, though, are moments that have no accompanying document. Home video – and to a lesser extent super 8 home movies – not only replace the experience with a fabricated memory, but also replace the memory with the experience of watching the fabricated memory. A different meaning and an entirely new experience occur in this new context. Conversely, there is an element of objectivity to the experience. Instead of being relegated to what you saw at the time to be important, you are allowed an amount of freedom from the prejudices and subjectivities of the remembering self. Without context we can re-interpret the importance of any experience as something factual.

Accumulating evidence of one’s existence is also prevalent in the culture of digital photo via cell phones. Such a precise representation of virtually every moment in our lives furthers our amassing of representative or replacement memories. But just as the act of note taking subjugates and withers our short-term memory, easily accessed digital images create a reliance on our technology for its seemingly endless backlog of visual clues to our present state. And in the same way home movies objectify precise moments of experience, cell-photos not only objectify, but attribute significance to otherwise random moments.

A whole life can be spent capturing experiences in digital bug jars, only to lose track of actually having the experience, leaving only a dried shell resting on the bottom of a clear plastic bottle. Instead…. I guess there is the simple task of experiencing life and trying to remember it. Good Luck


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