Keith Eastwell Fine Art Photography

Resemblance and Echoes ‘The photograph and sensory memory’ (Part 1)

Blog > Resemblance and Echoes ‘The photograph and sensory memory’ (Part 1)
14/12/2014 - 13:23


Resemblance and Echoes

‘The photograph and sensory memory’


Are photographs an aid or an obstruction to the accumulative history we acquire; do photographs act as a trigger or an obstacle to memory?


Photographs can be a key to unlocking personal memories; the photograph is also a paradox. From a frozen image that conveys very little, some photographs can only partially open a temporal door, a kind of natural evidence and no more than a distant echo of the past. Others ignite an explosion of forgotten memories that have until the moment of viewing, slipped away before once again sparkling as a live witness. The photograph can be a picture on a wall and equally, a hanging event.1

The juxtaposition of an earlier photograph beside an updated rephotograph quantifies time, one can put into numbers the length of time passed between the two, providing the moment each image was taken has been carefully recorded. To quantify or put into numbers, requires accurate and precise measurement and far from quantify, the two images of my brother taken in the same spot 32 years apart, only highlight how slippery time can be and how feeble our own mortality. The two images (Fig 1) taken at 1/125th of a second, sit each end of a thirty-two year gap. If they quantify anything, it’s the 126 billion, 144 million images that stand missing between them.

Of the five characteristics of the photograph outlined by John Szarkowski (2009) in his book: The Photographers Eye, he writes of time in terms of a measure, a timed exposure. We are unable to see and therefore miss the informative, within the ordinary; this is evident from the work of Muybridge whose photographs of the galloping horse revealed all four hooves could be off the ground at any one moment.

Grow old with someone and we fail to see the full impact of time, until it is revealed in photographs taken decades apart.


Fig 1


Time stilled can both highlight the moment, together with the accumulative force of a decade passed2. With a portrait however, can it only ever uncover the obvious: the person, the group (including the photographer) has got older? Siegfried Kracauer wrote about the relationship between memory and the photograph and from his examples, an analogy would be to describe the photograph as recording space, while memory is the keeper of meaning and importance. (Kracauer 1995, p. 47-64). Rephotographing my early teens highlighted time passed, as opposed to the intention of time passing. In the juxtaposition of two similar images together on one print, it was the thirty-year gap, all those thousands of missing moments that only highlighted a now evident memory gap. Like the first and last pages torn from a book, the story in the middle is missing. Can a few more photographs within an almost forgotten 30 year gap trigger real memories, or simply colour how and what we interpret as real memories?



1. Time Exposure and Snapshot: The Photograph as Paradox Thierry de Duve October Vol. 5, Photography (Summer, 1978), pp. 113-125  (article consists of 13 pages) Published by: The MIT Press  Stable URL:

2. The point here is in highlighting the importance of the decisive moment not just in relation to the moment when bat hit ball as noted by Szarkowski, but by photography’s and the photographs ability to record the event as a whole. The person or landscape at that current state, which can later be compared and analysed against an older self.


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