I’ve always loved the many aspects of photography but I am especially interested in its relation to memory.
A photograph remains as is.
Or, does it?
We do know now that memories degrade, that when we remember something repeatedly, the most recent memory is actually a memory of the second most recent memory, not a memory of the actual source event. It’s like a Xerox of a Xerox.
I remember a day I spent at Swansea beach with Cynthia Hudson in January 1964. There were these large, sculptural rows of bleached driftwood and I took many photographs of Cynthia on the beach with and without the driftwood, with her camera. My memory of that day is the memory of those black and white photographs. I was 22 years old. On that day the year 1984 was not only the name of Orwell’s vision but a year in the unimaginable future, just to give you an idea of how long ago it was. I left the Cynthia photographs in a trunk in London when I first came to DC in April 1973. They are long gone. In February 1999 there was a fire at my apartment at The Albemarle on Connecticut Avenue in which I lost most of the photographs I owned. They were close to where the fire started near my desk in my study-bedroom and they were destroyed or lost along with much of 30 years worth of work, in hard copies and on two computers, and a lot else besides. Fortunately, there was a bunch of framed photographs in the kitchen and in the living room, which survived. Some of my favorite photographs had been on the wall around my desk, including my all-time favorite photograph of myself -- they were all lost.
A violinist named Martha Edwards took that on the island of Paros in 1971 -- it showed me sitting with a ten-year-old girl named Jennifer Packer, the daughter of my friend Toni Packer. There was a whole world of memory in that photograph and now it is gone forever. I still have the memory of the photograph and it’s much stronger than my memory of the day it was taken. I was crazy about Toni and there was something special in the bond between Jennifer and me. Everyone knew it and everyone commented on how satisfied we both looked sitting on a whitewashed stone bench under the Aegean sun in that photograph.. “Everyone” being the community of (mainly American) artists and writers connected to the Aegean School of Fine Arts. When I looked at that photograph on the wall behind my desk at the Albemarle, I could imagine the massive night sky over Paros so crowded with stars, so close it seemed, it seemed you could touch them. There was a tremendous sense of peace under that sky. And I could remember my connection with Toni and Jennifer as my life among those galaxies and constellations, in that peace, not as a fantasy of domestic (or sexual) life, but as something that transcended all of that,
I believe that a photograph is an “object” made of light. But a photograph has the potential to “document” much more than the physical world; photographs have that potential for mystery and for magic.
There’s a scene in a wonderful film called Queen Christina in which Greta Garbo is in a bedroom at an inn with her lover John Gilbert. She rushes around the room, touching everything, in attempt to memorize the room and its emotional, sexual, and spiritual contents via sensory perception, I feel like a modest version of Greta when I go about with my camera.