In Depth: Photos as Objects of Recollection


We see it often in old movies, the burning of photographs as a metaphor for purging memories. Sometimes it’s done as an attempt to hide a crime or to heal a heartache, but either way, it shows the powerful impact of photography when it comes to recalling memories.

In this in-depth article, we’re exploring the connection of images and memories, and of course sharing a few remarkable photos from the community.

Credits: puppettina, lomogic, marie-pauline & fidannazimqizi

As photographer Geloy Concepcion says, “I take photos so I can remember.”

Photographs greatly aid us in recalling previous events. Time can muddle our memory of a certain instance, but with the help of a visual memory like a photograph we can bridge the distance between the now and then.

This is why we keep photographs in albums, in picture frames to be hung on walls or put on countertops, even in wallets and lockets. But there’s also a few caveats when it comes to this function of photography in recollecting our subjective reality.

Credits: pixleepics, nermantas & weidong

Cognitive offloading can also occur when taking photographs–when instead of being “in the moment” with all of our senses focused on the happening in front of us, we trust our cameras to make the memories for us by staying behind the lens more than experiencing the actual moment. This could lead to the possibility of missing a few moments or details our cameras weren’t able to capture, and which we also weren’t able to witness first-hand.

This happens most often with digital cameras where we can take as many photos as we like. Although the two forms of photography have their own uses and can definitely work well with each other in different scenarios, this presents a stark contrast when digital is compared to the intentionality of film.

Film allows us to take our time in between images, and approach each frame with more mindfulness. As it is, it's important to remember that, while taking a photograph will allow us to extend the experience of an event, we should also strike a balance between that and experiencing the actual moment.

Credits: kao-n, ale2000, larsk & kandawan

Going back to observations in movies, and perhaps even in reality, the burning or tearing into pieces of a photograph signifies the ending of something.

While we can now make multiple copies of our photos through digital archiving, the act of burning or tearing photos or negatives was once more extreme, due to the tangible and limited nature of film.

It makes one ask, in some instances where there's a lot of pain associated with an image, how can we deal with the grief that comes with taking and keeping photographs? What happens when the very objects supposed to be our reminder of someone’s existence become the reason we’re in turmoil?

Credits: annitaszabo, terrenceobrien, mpscheerer & fadjaradiputra

This could happen in situations like when we lose or are separated from a loved one, or see a glimpse from a beautiful past completely irrelevant to a more challenging present. Most often when we see these types of images we’ve taken, we can be overcome by grief, anxiety, or nostalgia. The depth of the memories and personal pain that these images conjure in us can work against photography's purpose of allowing us to remember, where we'd much prefer to forget.

But with the pain also comes the wealth of wisdom we can learn from our memories about a time of our life, and the people we used to be surrounded with, when we perhaps had absolutely no idea about the circumstances that would happen afterwards. Much of it also has to do with the way we approach the seasons of our lives. Perhaps we can take inspiration from film photography with the way we approach and process hard emotions such as grief – with patience and intentionality, and the grace to accept the outcome.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Share them with us below!

written by sylvann on 2024-02-29 #in-depth #photography #memory #in-depth


  1. hervinsyah
    hervinsyah ·

    I was lomowalk with fadjaradiputra and lomoguru bebopbebop when that photo was taken circa 2013 OMG 11 years ago

  2. sylvann
    sylvann ·

    It's an amazing MX shot, @hervinsyah!

  3. untamedboy
    untamedboy ·

    Great Article

  4. hervinsyah
    hervinsyah ·

    @sylvann agree 👍

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