350MC Working with Photography in Context – Definitive Blog Post

This blog post has been created as the definitive blog post for my 350MC Working with Photography in Context module, and includes a list of the main blog posts to be considered for marking, a link to the recording of my presentation at the Symposium event, a copy of my final script, and a final reflection on my Symposium contribution.

 


 

Main Blog Posts (to Consider for Marking):

“350MC Working with photography in Context – Development of Idea”

“350MC Working with photography in Context – Writing the Essay”

“350MC Working with photography in Context – Creating the Presentation”

 


 

The Symposium Event – My Presentation:

Video of Presentation:

Remembrance: Landscape Photography and Memory by Holly Constantine – Collective Vision Symposium from Holly Constantine on Vimeo.

 

“Remembrance: Landscape Photography and Memory” Script:

Memory is the term given to the processes included in the encoding (creating and changing), storing and subsequent retrieving of information and past experiences (McLeod 2007). Focusing primarily on the idea of long-term memories, by presenting individuals with a distorted representation of past events, there are moments in people’s lives when the recollection of personal, fragmented memories could provide them with a comforting form of psychological escapism. Using examples from both Ann Chwatsky and Mikael Levin, this presentation will examine the relationship between the remembrance of long-term reverie memories and the reconnection to lost loved ones, through the use of landscape photographs as memory triggers and tools for recollection.

 

Reverie memories, as described by Owain Jones when discussing Chris Philo’s paper, “To Go Back up the Side Hill: Memories, Imaginations and Reveries of Childhood”, are:

“… Episode[s] of memory when we somehow travel back. A state where consciousness can slip back towards a more dreamlike state (…) [And] can begin to ‘drift’ back into all the remembered spaces, events and feelings which are in our minds.” (Jones 2007: 208-209)

Reverie memories are also usually associated with pleasant past experiences (Merriam-Webster n.d), and can be identified as the type of memory that encapsulates a positive emotional attachment. Once retrieved, reverie memories can therefore be seen as a psychological connection to people’s lost loved ones through providing them with the opportunity to experience the presence of the missed individual in a fabricated version of an event in the past. However, over time, memories tend to fade and appear to travel down the route of the forgotten. So, how do people access these reverie memories that could reconnect them to those that they miss? Although it is a common concern that memories of the absent will eventually be lost over time, Paul Ricouer argues:

“… Many memories, perhaps among the most precious, childhood memories, have not been definitively erased but simply rendered inaccessible, unavailable, which makes us say that one forgets less than one thinks or fears.” (Ricoeur 2006: 416)

Memories are therefore never truly forgotten because, conforming to its description as a storehouse for memory (Bergson 1912: 81), the brain has the ability to organize stored information into appropriate memory systems for future retrieval. According to the Freudian theory of ‘phantasy’ most memories (including long-term, reverie memories) are therefore stored within a cognitive area known as the preconsciousness: “not conscious, but which may emerge into consciousness under favourable conditions” (Burgin 2009: 40). These particular fading (reverie) memories, as with most other long-term memories, can therefore begin to be recovered by the individual’s consciousness through the introduction to a primary “favourable condition” or memory trigger.

 

Memory triggers can therefore begin to challenge people’s preconceived interpretation that the past and the present are unrelated. Acting as present traces of the past, memory triggers, which vary in form depending on the individual and the memory they wish to retrieve, provide people with access to the past by initiating their process of remembrance. These memory triggers are usually associated with the long-term memory the individual is trying to recover, and it is often the act of consciously recognizing and repeating the use of a memory trigger (Ricoeur 2006: 37-39) that results in the activation of a memory pathway, into the preconsciousness, through independent recollection (Bergson 1912: 87).

 

Henri Bergson, when discussing recognition within independent recollection, proposes that:

“… At other times it [recognition] implies an effort of the mind which seeks in the past, in order to apply them to the present, those representations which are best able to enter into the present situation.” (Bergson 1912: 87)

An individual’s mind therefore “sees” into the past on the basis of vestigia (Ricoeur 2006: 352): by searching for representational aspects of the present (memory triggers) that have also been experienced in the past. This theory offers one of the reasons why photographs (of landscapes) can act as such powerful memory triggers. However, in order to understand this concept fully, ideas surrounding the creating and encoding of the memory, at the time of the past event, need to be briefly reexamined. As the individual experiences the event, their mind collects and process information from each of their sensory inputs, before adapting (or encoding) this sensory information to enable its storage within the appropriate memory system (McLeod 2007). When this individual then experiences a present representation (or acting memory trigger) of one of these stored pieces of information, their mind then actively searches through previously stored, associated information, that now act as mediators to the memory. This enables the mind to advance down a complex memory pathway (constructed by the associative information), through the preconsciousness, resulting in the fragmented retrieval of the memory in question.

 

Placing landscape photograph memory triggers within the context of this psychological process, photographs have the ability to assist the recollection of a reverie memory through the concept of the photographic trace. Although some landscapes progress through stages of change, photography has the ability to freeze a moment in time, creating a window into the past through the representation of what has already been; this allows the individual viewing the image to experience a strong visual representation of the past event, which has been encoded and stored within a reverie memory. This in turn facilitates the minds ability to search for the stored remnants of associated information, which results in the quicker progression through the complex memory pathway, to the scattered recollection of the altered memory (Conger 2008).

 

Ann Chwatsky considered these ideas of vestigia (representations) in independent recollection, and concepts surrounding constructive memory pathways, throughout her project “When I Was A Girl” (Chwatsky 2014). Deviating from the idea of using landscape photographs as memory triggers, Chwatsky examined the remembrance and reconnection to her childhood by exploring the use of landscapes as an expressive tool within the notion of conceptual self-portraiture (Bishop 2014). Creating digital montages, which incorporated remnants of varying photographic subjects, Chwatsky was therefore able to create a present, visual representation of some of her past reverie memories. The photographic layers she incorporated into these images can be interpreted as representing the stored sensory, mediatory information of the memory she recalled, whilst also referencing the complex memory pathway her mind underwent throughout the process of independent recollection. These created memory images also challenge the personal, subjective relationship associated with memory through the combination of features (including photographic layers and text), which allow a number of viewers to gain an understanding of the personal memory depicted.

 

However, returning to the idea of using photographs as personal memory triggers, why has this discussion focused solely on LANDSCAPE photographs as an example of traces of the past? Although photographs have been previously identified as powerful memory triggers through the idea of the photographic trace, landscapes in themselves also act as key triggers of memory. Bearing in mind that landscapes are concepts of cultural relativity, and are interpreted in a vast number of ways (Schama 1996: 15-18), this idea stems from the main assumption behind the success of the mnemonic strategy called “The Method of Loci”. This memorization technique works on the generalized premise that individuals best remember memories (including reverie memories) through their association with different places (Mohs n.d.). In accordance with this theory, Frances Yates discusses the power of place as memory triggers through stating:

“For when we return to a place after a considerable absence, we not merely recognize the place itself, but remember things that we did there, and recall the persons whom we met and even the unuttered thoughts which passed through our minds when we were there before.” (Yates 1994: 37)

So why is it suggested that individuals best remember memories through their association with different places? This proposition relates to theories surrounding the sensory information that is collected, encoded and stored at the time of the past event. As landscapes produce a diverse range of sensory experiences, when an individual is confronted with a visual, representational landscape memory trigger, their mind can therefore search through a wider pool of associated mediatory information, creating an expanded memory pathway, which can result in the quicker recollection of the relevant (reverie) memory (Conger 2008).

 

Landscapes, in their own sense, can also act as a mediator to memory when an individual recognizes a landscape photograph as a personal memory trigger. In other words, when an individual views an image of a familiar landscape (the visual, representational memory trigger), their mind then associates the image with the physical landscape captured within the photo. Once this first mediatory step has occurred, the mind begins to recall the associated information the individual encountered within the physical landscape, at the time of this documented past experience. This therefore means that, through the use of the landscape subject as a memory pathway mediator, landscape image memory triggers can allow the individual’s mind to progress down an intensified memory pathway, resulting in the recollection of a denser altered memory.

 

Mikael Levin briefly investigates these ideas of landscapes as memory triggers and sensory memory pathways throughout his project “War Story” (Levin 1996). By retracing the journey his father embarked on during his assignment to cover the “Jewish Story” throughout the war, Levin used this project to expand upon his father’s World War II memories by creating a visual narrative to accompany his father’s writings (Levin 1996). Considering ideas surrounding landscapes and memory, Levin examined remembrance by recognizing and adopting his fathers landscape memory triggers in order to explore whether natural landscapes could hold memories or traces of the past (Levin 1996). Although primarily focusing on his father’s story, this project also provided Levin with the opportunity to reconnect to his lost loved one by encountering similar locational, sensory inputs; this allowed Levin to experience a psychological sense of “drifting back” (that is associated with an episode of reverie), through supplying him with useful information that aided the empathizing and imaginative understanding of his father’s past journey. The final exhibition pieces (which included a combination of Levin’s photographs, a selection of his father’s writings, and photographs from the original trip) offer a similarity between Levin and Chwatsky’s work, by allowing the viewers to gain an understanding of the personal memory (and reconnection) aspects of the project.

 

So, through the use of landscape photographs, how can people reconnect to their lost loved ones? However much people may fear the pain of the absent, over the years, as they slowly grow accustomed to their loss, they can begin to understand that the presence of these individuals is forever stored within their personal, reverie memories. Although memories have the tendency to fade and alter over time, appearing to become inaccessible through their storage in an individual’s preconsciousness, people have the ability to locate these traces of the past through the recognition of present, representational memory triggers. These memory triggers begin the process of independent recollection by activating the retrieval of stored, associated information as the mind progresses through a preconscious memory pathway; this results in the constructed recollection of the altered (reverie) memory, which offers them the opportunity to experience, psychologically, the long desired presence of those that they miss.

 

Landscape photographs are just one of these many different memory triggers that can direct people down this fabricated path of remembrance, towards their stored (reverie) memories; however, through combining the residual and immersive characteristics from both photographs AND landscapes, they can be identified as a very effective tool for recollection. Incorporating the photographs ability to freeze a moment in time (creating a trace of the past through a visual representation), as well as its association to the range of sensory experiences encountered within its landscape subject, landscape photographs enable individuals to mentally experience remnants of the past, resulting in the recollection of a denser, adapted (reverie) memory. Landscape photographs, when being used as a tool for remembrance, therefore have the capability to direct individuals down a pathway to the past, reconnecting people to those they have lost.

 

List of References:

Bergson, H. (1921) Matter and Memory. New York: Cosimo

Bishop, J. (2014) ‘The Evolution of Ann Chwatsky’s Photography’. Huffington Post [online] available from <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jacqueline-bishop/the-evolution-of-ann-chwa_b_5466590.html?utm_hp_ref=arts&ir=Arts> [7 February 2015]

Burgin, V. (2009) ‘Re-Reading Camera Lucida’. in Photography Degree Zero: Reflections on Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida. ed. by Batchen, G. Cambridge: MIT Press, 31-46

Chwatsky, A. (2014) When I Was A Girl [online] available from <www.annchwatskyphoto.com/when-i-was-a-girl/> [29 December 2014]

Conger, C. (2008) How Amnesia Works [online] available from <http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/amnesia1.htm> [20 January 2015]

Jones, O. (2007) ‘An Ecology of Emotion, Memory, Self and Landscape’. in Emotional Geographies. ed. by Davidson, J., Bondi, L., and Smith, M. Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 205-218

Levin, M. (1996) War Story [online] available from <http://www.mikaellevin.com/war_story.html> [29 December 2014]

McLeod, S. (2007) ‘Stages of Memory: Encoding, Storage and Retrieval’. SimplyPsychology [online] available from <http://www.simplypsychology.org/memory.html> [7 February 2015]

Merriam-Webster (n.d) Reverie [online] available from <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/reverie> [7 February 2015]

Mohs, R. C. (n.d.) ‘How Human Memory Works’. HowStuffWorks [online] available from <http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/human-memory.htm> [29 December 2014]

Ricoeur, P. (2006) Memory, History, Forgetting. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press

Schama, S. (1996) Landscape and Memory. London: Fontan

Yates, F. A. (1994) The Art of Memory. London: PIMLICO

 


 

Final Reflection:

Symposium Event:

Looking back at the Symposium, although I took time prior to the event to enhance my confidence of the paper through the practicing and preparation of my delivery (as well as answers to a number of possible questions that could arise), as the day of the presentation arrived, I couldn’t help but feel a natural sense of angst regarding the idea of public speaking. With this being said, on reflection, I feel that I successfully presented my academic essay both verbally and visually (through the use of my accompanying visual presentation), and that the nerves I was experiencing only showed through a couple of stammers within the reciting of my script and slight pauses in the answering of the questions. Upon review of the digital recording of my Symposium presentation (that provides evidence of the idea that my talk ran smoothly), I am also very impressed in the confidence of the delivery of my script, and feel that the continuing practice of my presentation enabled me to enhance my public speaking skills; this, being a very important skill to possess within the photographic industry, therefore allowed me to elicit a great sense of professionalism within my presentation, which is demonstrated within the digital recording.

With regard to the more challenging question and answer session that followed the presentation of my paper, I personally feel that this aspect of the talk also went relatively well. Although this session was initiated with a question that I had previously prepared (concerning “altered and fragmented memories”), once the presentation aspect had been successfully completed, I soon realized that the focus I had placed on the delivery of my essay affected my ability to recall my pre-prepared answers. As a result, this lead to a slight pause in the answering of the first question, which actually provided me with the opportunity to briefly gather my thoughts, enabling me to convey all of the relevant information, which resulted in the successful answering of the question. Once this first question and answer exchange had taken place, my mind then began to focus on the task at hand, which resulted in the easier, and more successful, answering of the following, previously prepared question (that asked about the “different interpretation of landscapes”). Finally, to complete the question and answer session, I was actually asked a question that I hadn’t considered before (which discussed the idea of “negative reverie memories”). Although this un-prepared question heightened the challenging aspect of the question and answer session, through applying my knowledge gained from the wide range of research I had conducted (as well as the fact that it briefly linked to another prepared answer for a different possible question), I soon realized that I was able to effectively answer the question, whilst also displaying my intellectual capability. Despite the fact that, as suggested above, I am relatively pleased with my contribution to the question and answer section, I also feel that it would have been interesting to have received a variety of other questions that would have further challenged me as an academic, as well as providing me with the opportunity to integrate and evidence more of the extensive research I had conducted throughout the module.

 

Module in General:

On reflection, I found that this module greatly challenged me as a practicing photographer, and through the process of completion, has allowed me to develop as a professional, academic researcher and writer. Through the process of conducting and compiling an extensive amount of relevant research, which resulted in the development and adaptation of a particular subject matter (in my case, “Landscape Photography and Memory”), I was able to experience a similar methodology to that of a professional research project. Identifying and analyzing ongoing academic issues and debates, that expand across a wide range of differing resources, has allowed me to create a comprehensible piece of work that evidenced the formulation of independent ideas through the situational relationship and application of both academic and personal viewpoints. Expanding on these academic notions, the incorporation of varying visual case studies added depth to my professional research paper through placing the discussed theories within a photographic context (which demonstrating a further understanding of the deliberated concepts).

However, undertaking this professional research process presented me with challenging obstacles that were later resolved throughout the developmental stages. One of these challenges included the process of condensing the extensive amount of research (as well as the constructive feedback that I gained), into a 10-minute presentation, whilst also providing evidence of broader philosophical theories that related to the concepts discussed. In order to overcome this particular challenge, I took the time to contemplate the relevance of pieces of research and feedback, whilst also incorporating stimulating sentences within my final essay (that suggested my knowledge and understanding of these surrounding theories), before taking the time to prepare answers to possible questions relating to these broader topics. Another difficulty that I encountered included the balance between the academic and psychological aspects of the essay, and the photographic relevance associated with the theories. Although I thought that the academia of the essay had decreased in intensity through the inclusion of more visual, photographic aids in the accompanying presentation (which provided a challenge in itself when deciding on the relevant visual aids to accompany such an academic piece), I still feel that the psychological complexity of the essay slightly overshadowed its associative relationship with photography. I therefore feel that if I were to revisit this academic module in the future, I would attempt to alter the relationship between the theoretical and the photographic, by shifting the focus primarily onto the professional, visual practice.

However, in relation to the future dissemination of the research that I have conducted, as stated towards the beginning of the module, I wanted to use the symposium module to its full beneficial potential by exploring a subject matter that greatly related to my Final Major Project. Choosing the topic of “Landscape Photography and Memory”, I have therefore been introduced to a number of academic and photographic resources that can apply to the overarching themes I am planning on investigating within my final piece. Through the analysis of academic debates and theories, and the formulation of personal viewpoints associated with the discussed concepts, the symposium module has provided me with relevant information that can aid in the academic contextualization of this end-of-year project.

For example, general research regarding the broader topic of memory (including processes of recollection, and types of memories and memory triggers) not only offer a theoretical standpoint associated with the personal reasons behind the creation of the project (reconnecting to my lost Grandpa through the recollection of personal memories), but can also help to inform developmental project decisions. In addition to this, the visual case studies explored within this academic paper (Ann Chwatsky and Mikael Levin) can be used to suggest that different features within photographic and artistic pieces (including text) can increase the viewer’s accessibility to a subjective and personal project. (These are just two examples, out of the many, of how the symposium research can be applied to my Final Major Project, and have been included to aid in the understanding of future implementations of the research).

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