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Capturing Memories

October 14, 2017

Several days ago, there was a segment on NPR regarding the effects camera phones on memory. The radio segment recalls a NZ psychologist's study on how the use of cell phone cameras is impacting our ability to form memories in childhood. Her take on it, as the segment relays, is that the use of camera phones (or more generally, photography) can inhibit a child's memory formation. I found the segment thought provoking, leading me to consider how I myself acquire memories and by what means.

 

I think that I would be most like everyone else in admitting that I like to create memories through photos. Though I don't consider myself skilled in any of the arts, I do have an interest, with photography being included as one. I like to appreciate as much as I like to create amateur shots to capture the moment that I think is especially unique from an aesthetic perspective, or is just simply beautiful. Having these interests have led me to consider the various ways in which people try to still moments in time, and I've come to the conclusion that writing and photographs-whether behind the camera or in front-are a couple of ways that I still the moment.

 

The most recent example I can think of is my cell phone photographs of Bourbon St. in New Orleans at 6 o'clock in the morning on a Friday and/or Saturday morning after Jazz Fest. For those of you that are not aware (as I wasn't until recently), New Orlean's Bourbon St. is a section of New Orlean's French Quarter that may be considered "Party Central." It hosts an excessive amount of debauchery and lots associated with vice, like drinking, drunks; the sloppiness, stench and unsanitary conditions that goes hand-n-hand with drunkenness; bead throwers (and catchers); the kind of street littering one would never see anywhere in America; rats, etc. The street fills up in the evening time with tourists seeking to have a good time and finally clears up by 6 or 7 o'clock in the morning. The left-over party mess on the street, I thought was a spectacular sight to capture. 

 

The streets are littered with trash and plastic, empty alcohol containers some broken, glass, decomposing food (and worse!) because the city either doesn't enforce littering laws on Bourbon, or it doesn't have them. The garbage crew manually picks up a lot of the trash, then sprays the street and sidewalks with water and disinfectant, before making a round to do it again until the streets are clean. 

 

A piece of art isn't necessary something that is beautiful. It can be repulsive too, which is the case with my description of Bourbon St. at 6 o'clock in the morning on the weekend of Jazz Fest. In either case, it is something that is capable of invoking emotion. It has the potential to be a nice photograph. It has the potential to harbor a memory of a place. 

 

I think the image of the street as I described will be etched in my mind for a long time to come, but I'm not sure whether it's because I focused more on the scene rather than capturing it with a camera on my cell phone. I did capture the scene with a cell phone picture eventually but after ample amount of time walking through it and experiencing it by way of stepping over trash, passing drunk people, and taking in the stench. I actually had to make a mental note in order to remind myself multiple times that this was a scene that was worth capturing on camera. I did eventually, but it seemed much more so like a chore in comparison to the actual experience of it.

 

When I modeled in front of the camera (and by that, I am simply referring to the portfolio I've accumulated in doing and redoing my site), I didn't feel the process to be so tedious. I mean tedious in the sense that I feel compelled to capture the scene and it is me that must manually do it. In retrospect, being in front of the camera felt more like I was creating the experience organically rather than fabricating it. I think in a dynamic between photographer and the person or the thing being photographed, it is the photographer that is fabricating a memory while the one or thing being photographed is living it.

 

To return to the study on the effects of cell phone cameras and memories, I'm not sure how the taking of cell phone pictures really impedes the memory formation of those behind the camera-which in this case, is the kids. It might alter it slightly, though not necessarily transform it into a completely different experience than it would otherwise be. As for those capturing the images, I think the impact on memory is greater. As an unintended consequence, the focus is shifting on the capturing of the experiencing rather than living it. It is, in a sense, a planning for the future in order to look at a time past, rather than living in the moment and appreciating it. 

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