I Photograph To Remember, I Photograph To Forget

Photographs are very deeply intertwined with my memories. As are dreams, but that’s for another post.

Pondering recently I realised photography is as important to helping me to remember as to forget.

I photograph to remember…

I love having a way to capture family moments on a medium other than just my memories. Plus you can’t project your memories directly on to a living room wall, or print it and mount them in a frame, or share them with other people.

Looking through photographs of moments from years ago helps me appreciate all we’ve enjoyed together, and all we have to be grateful for – then, and now.

Without photography, I would of course still have my memories. But they’re not so reliable or as easily accessible, nor as organised as my photos.

So I photograph to remember.

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I photograph to forget…

When I’m out wandering with camera, hunting for interesting and beautiful compositions, I’m mostly slowly processing random thoughts and ideas in my mind, trying to formulate some kind of order.

The moments where I see something that might want to capture with camera, I switch to a state of mind that’s far more focused. I’m thinking only about what’s in the viewfinder or screen, and making the minor adjustments I need to, so the scene looks how I want it to.

Once the shutter clicks, I snap back to reality, and that gentle thinking again, pulled once more out of the calm immersive reverie those moments of composition require.

It’s in these brief periods of time – sometimes a couple of seconds, sometimes maybe 30 or more – that I forget everything else.

I forget anything I’m worried or anxious about. I forget that I’m too hot, or tired, or thirsty, or hungry. I forget what I have planned for the rest of the day or what’s gone before. Everything is just here and now, right in that rectangle. And it’s beautiful.

This is an experience I find incredibly precious, and very necessary.

Without photography, I could still go out and walk the same places, and I would still gain many of the same benefits – exercise, fresh air, seeing beautiful compositions.

But I wouldn’t be looking as closely, or lingering as long. The immersion wouldn’t be as frequent, or as deep, or as restorative.

So I photograph to forget.

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How is photography connected with your memories? Do you photograph to remember, to forget, or both?

Please let us know in the conversation below (and remember to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too. If you’re interested, this is what my photography life looks like right now.

16 thoughts on “I Photograph To Remember, I Photograph To Forget”

  1. A beautiful post, Dan. I take my photobooth photos to remember, even though they often don’t represent a real event. (I recently “went to the races” in my favourite booth. I had my form guide, betting slips, binoculars to view the race I’d “bet” on, wore a fascinator (blah 🙄) and had my celebratory glass of champagne. A gross case of overacting completed the scenario. 😆) I make notes on the back of each strip and keep other ephemera from the day, if applicable, with them. I used to keep journals but a visual diary is more rewarding and more fun. I used to get that feeling of meditation through work and intense concentration, when I was a ceramic designer. It feels like switching to another mode where time has no meaning.

    1. Very interesting how you combine photography with other visual arts, plus perhaps a hint of drama? Your approach sounds similar to what I know of Cindy Sherman and her film stills series.

  2. I’m not the kind of guy who gathers people together for a group photo to record a memory. My wife is, and I have to admit it’s been kind of useful, as I’ll come away from a major life event with no photos.

    That said, when I look back on the photos I do have they help weave the narrative of my life. I tend to remember feelings far more than facts, and sometimes photos help the facts stay set in my mind.

    1. I’ve changed greatly in my approach since I moved in with my (now) wife around seven years ago. My previous place was a small and simple bachelor pad, with some artwork on the walls but no personal photos. And I rarely made any either.

      My wife likes family photos around her, and I have evolved towards this to. I don’t machine gun the camera at every opportunity, but when there’s an occasion or moment worth noting, I might take a photo or two, mostly of my wife and kids, and occasionally with me in it too!

      I’m not really one for gathering people together for posed shots either, mine are usually pretty natural and spontaneous.

  3. I photograph to carve preservable moments out of the raw material of my experience, that are somehow also independent of that experience. In that way, I get to rescue moments I might otherwise forget, and continue to be in them. I also photograph when words aren’t there. It gets bad when both are absent.

    1. Very intriguing comment, thank you Jennifer.

      “…and continue to be in them” really resonates with me. When I review images of a photowalk it’s like I’m reliving the walk, and seeing the image can also trigger a memory of how I felt, the temperature and weather, the smells and sounds, and so on. Like the photo becomes a sort of coat hook to hang all your other sensory and emotional memories of the moment on also. Without the coat hook, these other associations don’t seem to stick so well.

      1. Yes, that’s just it! And there’s an added sense of curation of the aspects of the moment you want preserved. Life moves so quickly; with photography we can slow it down and pluck out individual moments that otherwise might pass into the ether.

        Wonderful discussion. Thank you.

  4. Goodness Dan….a deep and complex post this time. I take photos for JOY. I take them to remind me of something that has brought me JOY, I take photos wherever I go to celebrate JOY. I never realised that before. Photographers take photos for all sorts of reasons but I never realised until now I do it for JOY. lots of love from susanJOY

    1. Well that’s a very important and useful reason for making photographs Susan! I do find the memory is enhanced in many ways if I also have a photo to hang my other sensory associations of the moment on to.

  5. I photograph to escape, Dan. I find it takes me away from all the negative aspects we find ourselves surrounded by in life. Most of these things we have no control over and therefore can not change. So I photograph to escape, to take me to another place where I am free to be me. And sometimes the results help me to remember and sometimes they help me to forget. Great conversation !!

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