To investigate the role of photography through the understanding of autobiographical memory and self-construction.
In order to present this research project, I have chosen to do a symposium piece. I have chosen this selection as to allow me further time researching and developing the theory behind my work as opposed to spending a large amount of time preparing a well-produced DVD. I also believe it will help to develop my personal abilities within the confidence required to address a large audience.
Autobiographical memory is the understanding of the construction of memories based on an underlying self-structure and preference. As argued by Don Slater, ‘we construct ourselves for and through an image’. Through ‘everyday’ photography, we are sub-consciously deciding with each image what is worthy of remembering and how exactly we wish to remember this event. Each of these decisions is based around a self-constructed personality we wish to portray, which is strongly reinforced through the medium of photography as an aid to memory. The construction of image trough the choice of pose and composition, and also the choice of which to discard and which to ‘present’ to the World through both social media and our earlier family albums, also leaves a trail of understanding regarding the perceived view of oneself. The representation of our identity is, in this age created through an online platform through which we choose photographs to share with others that create a self-chosen personality and lifestyle. It would be naïve to claim that our self-portrayal is not altered by social pressures to adhere to a certain lifestyle, and that these are not present throughout our constructed photographic lives. Through the lead of social expectations we are challenged by what we see before us within ourselves and also within an image we have taken, to subconsciously carve a constructed version of oneself that better conforms to the understanding of a certain lifestyle we believe we lead. Within our culture, most people will possess a photographic life; a story of their life that has been documented by first their parents and then themselves. Looking back through these images help to reinforce our personal memories; to act as ‘props or prompts in verbal performances of memory’ ‘shot through with lines of both epic and anecdotal dimension’ (Langford, 2001). The question that remains to be asked is how reliable our photographic lives can be. Photography as a medium has long been seen as a truthful portrayal of events with regards to capturing a moment. However, our involvement in curating an image and deciding which moments are worthy of capturing needs to be taken into account when faced with the understanding of photography as a supportive element of memory. It is likely that the photograph is an accurate portrayal of that event or moment, however the album as a whole is an inaccurate portrayal as it only ‘comments’ on the happy events taking place throughout our lives and disregards the unsavoury elements we may not wish to remember. The reinforcement of a happy moment through a photograph conforms to our subconscious choice to remember the happier elements of our lives and disregard those not deemed worthy. How well does a photograph capture a moment, and how well do we remember these moments based on the photographs? Do we remember the moments simply because the photograph exists? Do we remember the moment differently simply because of what is portrayed through the photographs of the event? Whilst the photograph is a valid tool to help us remember and reflect on ourselves, we must also remember the facility within photography to construct the personality and lifestyle we are reflecting on.
In order to gather a wide range of information from which to develop a further understanding of this concept, I intend to work through many different source mediums. My research will encompass a qualitative approach to my source material, with my primary research designed around textual analysis. However, I also intend to work through my own family albums and hope to create a personal understanding of this through evident altered depictions by myself and my family. `
My methods of research will include further research into the articles and information I have already gathered on the source, and following on through elements of each. Further research will be conducted through the library source. I also intend to contact several photographers and writers who have focused on photography and memory and gain further insight into their personal understanding of the subject at hand. This poses a problem, as I may struggle to collect the optimal amount of feedback and within the right time frame. However, I believe if I make this contact soon I will have enough time to collect the information I require to reinforce my research thus far. By investigating my own and others self-constructed photographic lives, I will gain a personal insight into this discussion which will allow me to reiterate my points further and in a more knowledgeable way. Hoping to understand the choices behind my own construction, a link will be made between why I have done this, and why we subconsciously alter our lives to create a perceived impression of ourselves.
The main method of analysis that I will be utilizing will be text analysis of both books and journals, that centre on social media, photography and the psychological understanding of memory. The combination of this analysis will lead me into a greater understanding of the way these elements are subconsciously intertwined within our own lives.
Through the continuation of this project, my initial plan is to continue with the trail of research I have already begun. My next step is to create a list of photographers who’s work closely relates to my proposal and attempt to contact them to gain a closer insight into their thought process through their work. During this time I intend to continue my textual analysis through the research conducted through both the library and online resources. Once I have gained a strong insight I will begin to analyse my own family albums and online photographic life in order to apply the understanding I have gained to a more literal setting. Hopefully by this time I will have received strong feedback from the artists I have contacted, and will be able to use the information gained from their personal insight to lead me into a deeper understanding and provide a further line of research to continue.
Langford, M. 2008. Suspended Conversations: The Afterlife of Memory In Photographic Albums. McGill-Queen’s University Press.
Butcher, P. 1991. Ghost Stories: Stray Thoughts on Photography and Film. Illustrated Edition.Proboscis.
Goldchain, R. 2008. I am my Family: Photographic Memory and Fictions. Princeton Architectural Press.
Kuhn, A. 2007. Photography and Cultural Memory: A Methodological Exploration. Routledge. Available at: http://publicsphere.narod.ru/Kuhn.pdf [Last Accessed: 05/11/12]
Conway, M.A. & Pleydell-Pearce, C.W. 2000. The Construction of Autobiographical Memories in the Self-Memory System. The American Psychological Association, Inc. Available at: http://homepage.psy.utexas.edu/homepage/class/Psy394U/Bower/11%20Soc%20Cog%20Personality/XX%20Constr%20Life%20Stories/Autobio%20Mem-Conway.pdf [Last Accessed: 05/11/12]
Lury, C. 1998. Prosthetic Culture: Photography, Memory and Identity. London: Routledge.
Slater, D. (Edited by Martin Lister) 1995. Domestic Photography and Digital Culture. London: Routledge: 1995.