Memory, old and new

Over the past few days I've been working on a little book of memories to mark a 70th birthday. It's involved gathering photos from eight decades, from the sepia of the 1940s and early 50s, through the black and white of the 60s, the polaroids of the 70s and 80s, and finally of course the hi-res digital images of today.

The crystalline sharpness of the pictures that the cheapest of contemporary cameras can capture is remarkable, but I love those old prints. Their burnt corners, blurred movements, inky depths, skewed perspectives, rips and tears give them the texture of memory itself. Waving hands, old smiles, burnished skies, sepia clouds, old summers, captured and bottled unawares.

As a child of the 1970s I'm of the last generation, perhaps, whose early years were recorded in low resolution, on faded Kodaks and stuttering Super 8 footage, beaten-up old images fragile like cornflowers pressed into an old Bible.

It seems somehow right, I think, that our visual records of the past should slowly decay, like memory. Appropriate that some half-remembered day from another decade should find its physical record in a set of weather-worn desaturated photos.

It's strange to contemplate that today's technology will preserve the past with such stark clarity. It already disconcerts me to see scenes from my life recorded using the first wave of digital cameras some 10 or 15 years ago. A younger me looms up, preserved with megapixel precision. What, I wonder, will it be like to look back on these images in old age? What will it be like for those a generation or two younger than me, whose entire lives will have been preserved in high definition? How odd it will be to look back at one's distant past, shining as brightly as the present.

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