Tara set A Memory as the subject for the Gallery this week, and I can't do it. Because how do you separate your memory of a moment from the photograph you took of it? How do you choose a photograph that represents a memory, when the very existence of the photograph affects, and indeed, can create, the memory itself?
What's your first memory? Mine is swimming. I was about 2 1/2 and I was in Haverhill Swimming Pool with my Daddy. I was wearing a green towelling (aah, the 70s!) swimming costume with a white trim. That's all I remember, not the chlorine smell, or the noise, or the excitement of the splashing; just the costume and me, and my Daddy.
Only that's not my first memory at all. I thought it was. I've told people it was. And then about ten years ago I was looking through my parents' photo albums and there it was. My memory. It's not a memory of the event. It's a memory of the photograph.*
There's a book by Penelope Lively called The Photograph in which Glyn, a landscape historian, whose job is to discover the truth of the land through photographs and documents, discovers a photograph which changes utterly his view of his life, and in particular his relationship with his wife. His memories of years of marriage are utterly undone by that snapshot, that moment in time captured on paper.
The journalist Jane Shilling wrote this in response:
A click, a flash, a whirr, and there we are, captured for ever in a moment of absolute truth: not the approximate truth of memory, which drifts and blurs in the retelling, but a palpable, glossy, 6in by 4in chunk torn from the fabric of passing time and stuck down here, in this album, to remind us, in case we should forget, of who we were, and what we were doing at a certain instant.So where is the memory in a photograph? Or is the photograph the memory itself?
There is one other photograph I would have, could have, perhaps should have, if it were not for the fact that it shows the faces of lots of my friends and given I don't put my own face up here, it seems unfair to put up theirs, used this week.
It was taken (not by me, so I shouldn't really use it anyway) at the wedding of my wonderful brother- and sister-in-law, T and K. T is B's brother, K is one of my very best girlfriends from university. They met utterly independently of B and me, but it meant that their wedding was a coming together of all of my friends as well as B's lovely family.
The only problem? I don't really remember it. As my own wedding did, it passed in a blur. S and A were born by c-section nine days earlier. The wedding was four hundred miles away. We had both, pre-scan, been asked to read. We had said yes. We wanted to go, we were going to go. We went.
And we were there. We read, we sang hymns, we wept just a little (well, I did). I know all this, because I was told, and because I have seen the pictures, but really, I don't remember much of it at all except for one moment. We had left the cathedral, we had got to the reception and a hundred of B's relations and family friends all milled around, wanting to congratulate us, to hold the scraps of humanity we had with us, to smile at L who was on top flirty 19-month-old form. And I wasn't interested in any of them. I remember - it's about the only thing I do remember - smiling and nodding and walking, as purposefully as I could, through the be-hatted and be-kilted guests to the far corner where my girlfriends, the friends I have known for nearly fifteen years now, were sitting, thrusting a baby into a pair of waiting arms,and plonking myself down and thinking for the first time in nine days: "relax".
And at that moment, "click". A memory: fixed in time, like a fly in amber.
I'm sure it's not T and K's favourite picture of what was clearly an amazing day. But it is mine. Because I remember it. I'm just sorry I can't show it to you.
*which clearly should have, and could have been another entry for this week, only funnily enough it's not digital, and it's at my parents and I had no way of scanning it in...