Obliquely I have been led to Proust. David Bates’ essay ‘The Memory of Photography’, suggested by my CS tutor failed to ignite any sense of connection with my research until close to the end when, towards the latter stages of the essay Bates suggests: ‘It can be said that photographic images do not destroy personal memories, but that they interact with them in very specific ways, which may not always be conscious. The binarism implied in the distinction between cultural memory and individual memory collapses as photography re-figures their relationship.’
I’m particularly interested in not only whether the unconscious memory can be stimulated by images, by photographs &c, but by found images in life wherever they manifest themselves. My wandering in Purgatory has had me looking for imagery that sparks what Proust talks about in his “In Search of Lost Time” as ‘involuntary memory’. I haven’t read Barthes “Camera Lucida” in the French original – the English translation doesn’t include a Proustian reference where ‘..it is suppressed’, but apparently Barthes’ notion of ‘punctum’ has a similar conceptual base – Bates also compares ‘Studium’ to ‘voluntary’ memory.
‘Undoubtedly what is thus palpitating in the depths of my being must be the image, the visual memory which, being linked to that taste, has tried to follow it into my conscious mind. But its struggles are too far off, too much confused; scarcely can I perceive the colourless reflection in which are blended the uncapturable whirling medley of radiant hues, and I cannot distinguish its form, cannot invite it, as the one possible interpreter, to translate to me the evidence of its contemporary, its inseparable paramour, the taste of cake soaked in tea; cannot ask it to inform me what special circumstance is in question, or what period in my past life.’ Proust, In Search of Lost Time, Swann’s Way (volume 1), Overture, Kindle edition Loc 868 The narrator has just tasted a piece of ‘madeleine cake’ that he had recently ‘dunked’ into a cup of tea whereupon he experienced ‘… a shudder ran through my whole body…. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, but individual, detached, with no suggestion of its origin..’ ibid Loc 844. The narrator goes on to describe, in effect, that the experience came from a place that he had no knowledge of ‘…It is face to face with something which does not so far exist [to the narrator’s consciousness], to which it alone can give reality and substance, which it alone can bring into the light of day.’ Ibid, Loc 850.
I have just completed the printing/mounting of my exhibition pieces for the forthcoming show that I am co-curating with fellow student Penny Watson. I have continued to work on the project I used for the my final assignment at Level Two on Documentary and my thoughts about it afterwards and my prints will be a ‘new’ narrative based on where this work is today. And whilst I have been busy with the mechanics of printing and framing, of sequencing and therefore forming a newly developed narrative, I have the sense that what I am doing/have done in BoW is a continuation of the work that I started previously, its just I didn’t realise it, or expect it or look for it. My reaction to the imagery wasn’t predicated on a formal plan, other than the plan to make images about what attracted me – an ‘involuntary’ response, a subconscious response, a ‘punctive’ response to what appeared in the frame – I am aware of course that it is a photographer that does the framing and I will naturally (sub-consciously?) exercise the viewfinder in a practiced way. The notion of ‘pretty pictures’ comes to mind, however I am less concerned with that now and more interested in how the images turn and what they might reveal.
The show, to be hung on the 2nd May, is entitled ‘Memories’. The title was decided upon as an ‘open’ entry for Level 3 students of photography – surely all photographs have the past imbued within them? I am though wondering about the active process of searching for memory.
In his essay Bates talks about “Freudian slips” ‘…where we may recall a name “wrongly”, these more permanent “memories” turn out to be based on a forgetting, the substitution of one memory for another or, indeed, one memory laid over another or embedded inside of it.’ This ‘slipperiness’ of memory is something that concerns me, I have distinct memory of some of my youth, though my siblings can remember major incidents from that time that I have absolutely no recollection of. And here I go back to Dante and a liquid thread that stems from the entrance to Paradise through Purgatory and into Inferno – the River Lethe. Despite it’s headwater in a land where it never rains; the water has the power to erase memory. Drinking it ensures the imbiber that they will never recollect their sins – no mention is made of other, sinless memory, only the turpitudes of the sinner as they make their ascent inexorably from the foot of Mount Purgatory to Paradise. Purged of the stain of sin, and with a memory expunged of all ill remembrances, and therefore unencumbered by notion of sin, they walk through into an Edenic glory for eternity. I wonder whether no memory would be a paradise on this mortal coil……
I have been in search of lost memories, I wonder if I have remembered what it was I was looking for.