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Topic section: The mirror with a memory
TOPIC SECTION:
The mirror with a memory
In the 1860s, the American poet and writer Oliver Wen
Irish 'In Memoriam' card, 1918
Credit: National Museum of Photography, Film & Television/Science & Society Picture Library
dell Holmes (1809-94) was one of photography’s most enthusiastic advocates. For Holmes, photography was nothing less than a means of triumphing over time, and, indeed, even over death itself. He wrote: ‘Those whom we love no longer leave us in dying, as they did of old... the unfading ar
a means of triumphing over time, and, indeed, even over death
tificial retina which has looked upon them retains their impress... How these shadows last, and how their originals fade away!’ Quite clearly, the ‘truthfulness’ and accuracy of the photographic image was a distinct improvement on the vagaries and weaknesses of human memory. It is an assumption that we share today in our enthusiasm, indeed, almost obsession, to capture significant people and events in our lives through photography.

T
'In Memoriam' brooch, c.1870
Credit: National Museum of Photography, Film & Television/Science & Society Picture Library
o some commentators, however, the very permanence of the photographic image, while seeming to offer the possibility of a memory that never fades, also threatens to eclipse that original memory and, ultimately, to destroy it. Through repeated viewing, they argue, it is the photographs themselves that become implanted in our memory rather than the people or events that they represent. Photography, instead of being in the service of memory, is actually in the service of forgetting. Implanted images such as these are no more than ‘false memories’, overwhelming the viewer with their potency and usurping the possibility of experiencing true or ‘involuntary’ memory.

 
 
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Topic section: Selling memories
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The Kodak Company was the first to sell film on the basis that it ‘preserved memory’. Now digital images seem to threaten the permanence of the photograph.  > more

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Topic section: Forget me not?
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In an attempt to capture more than just an image, photographs have been adorned with other memory triggers, including human hair.  > more
 
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