Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Memory & photographs - Which 'when' do I remember? - by Linda Strachan

I was looking through some old photographs recently and came across one of my mother, who died a few years ago. In the photograph she was about the same age as I am now and it occurred to me that I didn’t really remember her looking like that.
On further reflection I struggled to recall her face, the memories seemed to keep slipping and changing. The harder I tried the more difficult it became. Which image of her was the one I remembered? Perhaps all of them - and that was what made it so difficult. People change continuously, their faces, their hair, what they wear, how they stand.

Bizarrely, I have no problems in recalling what our pet Labrador looked like, but then aside from growing a little grey and getting stiffer in his joints, he really didn’t change much for many years.

I only dimly remember my grandmother, who died when I was quite young, until a photograph of her suddenly brought a familiar face and voice to mind. I was so young that I probably didn’t know her long enough for her to change very much.

My children, who are now adults, looked so different when they were very young and yet I can see something of the adults they became in the photographs of them as toddlers. The photographs jog my memory of them at a specific age.

Photographs are a slice of time, stopped but giving clues if you care to look.
Research into my ancestors meant looking carefully at photographs to absorb any tiny clues to their personality and situation in life through their expression, their stance and even their clothes. I love to try and guess what was going on in their minds at that moment, what was happening off camera, or in their lives – their cares, fears and joys.

Of course I could be making assumptions that are way off mark - but the possibilities for a story are endless!


Doda said...

I love imagining about the characters in old photos as well.
I love the picture you posted here!

Meg Harper said...

I find old photos fascinating in that they help me realise that people weren't so very different then! I don't expect 'modern' faces - but they're there! I recently acquired a booklet of portraits of prisoner at Oxford Gaol, taken on entry during the 19th century - some of them children as young as 10. It is profoundly revealing and moving, giving a glimpse of the feelings of those people and their lives, at the moment when they have been 'sent down'. There is a huge variety of emotion shown - the 'brave face on it', the swagger, the 'seen it all before', the sheer terror and the look of death lurking very close indeed.

Chai said...

I completely agree about the fascination of old photographs. Have you ever seen Stephen Poliakoff's 'Shooting the Past'? It really captures that sense of nostalgia for something you never knew and I remember being absolutely captivated by it.