Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Memories, greater and lesser

I've been editing all my photos from China, or at least a large part of them, to intensify whatever aspect of each photo contains the most potent memories. Each photo is treated quickly, because I have 120-300 that I need to edit, so I have to make sure that whatever element I choose to focus on seems relevant, but not so obvious that it damages the entire concept. Eventually I'll be collaging these together to make one larger work.

Most of my art is about perception. I perceive the world through my senses and I’m very limited in my methods of expressing those perceptions to other people. My work is also about memory. I have a very good long term memory, perhaps the best amongst my friends and family, and those memories are very internalized and heavily colored by perception. It’s my belief that memories and their meanings influence our personalities, which then influence our art. Perhaps, though art, we can attempt to access the collective memory of our culture to explain ourselves or our experience.

So, then, what is the collective memory and how do we perceive it? Can we access it? Those questions are something that I think philosophers and scientists are only barely working with. If we have a collective memory I think it’s something very connected to our daily lives, but our experiences and connections to it are ephemeral and subconscious. It flavors our experiences and we feed into it the icons and distilled meanings of our memories just the same as we pull meaning from our instantaneous experiences. For example: my perception of an orange is made of several things: the smell, the color, the feel, the taste, but also the memories I have or orange, which hover around it like a indistinct cloud. Some of those aspects are part of collective memory, such as the taste, smell, and color. We have an overall collective understanding of that, but somehow my memories feed into that collective understanding as well.

A short time ago I started becoming interested in the practice of taking photos and their meaning, as well as the reason or meaning of the act of taking the photo. I think that, with the widespread availability of cameras, our minds have become less sharp and many people rely less on their memory and more on photos. Some people have large collections of photos, so many that they can’t keep them in just one place. Some art snapshots, just quick impressions of a spontaneous moment, and some are more intentional: portraits, landscapes, and still shots. Of these, the most important to me are the snapshots. What moment is being captured, and why? How does a photo capture those moments?

What I find surprising is that, many times, the people who take the photos don’t remember why or where it was taken, though they may have some vague recollections. What purpose, then, do those photos serve? If a photo helps to capture a moment or a memory, but then that memory is lost, does it feed into the collective memory? Does the act of photographing a moment deny the collective memory of meaning?

What I want to do is try to bring meaning and focus back into photos in a way that reinforces my perception of an event, but also informs the viewer, perhaps with the help of perception from the collective memory. It’s my goal to eventually move beyond the photo, however, and begin to evoke those memories and feelings to leave an impression on the viewer without the need for further explanation.

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