single frame: Delmont 88

67 Olds Delmont 88

Delmont 88
Kodak EasyShare Z730 Zoom

I’ve reached a time in life where I can recall memories from my adulthood with great clarity, as if they happened last week — but to my surprise, some of those memories are 30 years old.

As I think back beyond 30 years, memories seem to have aged on a logarithmic scale — the farther back I go, the disproportionately more ancient the memory seems. My college days now firmly feel like they happened a long time ago. My public-school days feel more remote and disconnected the farther back I recall them. What little I recall from before those days seems to have happened in another era, in a different place, the jumbled images faded and color-shifted like cheap photo prints left in the sun.

Yet so much happens in even a relatively short time span that it’s easy to forget key details. In this ten-year-old photo I’m at my first Mecum classic-car auction, having won tickets in a radio contest. I was in nirvana, happily experiencing cars I’d only ever before seen in photographs. I had recently bought my first digital camera, a surprisingly capable Kodak. I shot a couple hundred photos there with it, depleted the battery, and wished I had a spare. I switched to shooting with my phone, a Palm Pre, until its battery had depleted as well. And look at my hair! I wore it to my shoulders in those days.

This photo reminds me of most of these details. Would they be lost to me now otherwise? Do I remember the last 30 years as clearly as I think I do?

More importantly to me now: at what point will my 20s start to feel like they happened a very long time ago? My 30s? My 40s? I know a blogger in his 80s who says he mostly can’t remember his kids’ childhoods anymore. Is that my fate, too?

How does memory work, anyway?

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7 responses to “single frame: Delmont 88”

  1. danfrosh122 Avatar
  2. Dan James Avatar

    Ah I love thought provoking posts like this (though I wonder if others who do might skim past the relatively obscure post title, rather than being called “how do our memories work and does it influence how we photograph” or something?)…

    I often think that some of my most vivid childhood memories (I’m early 40s) are based more on photographs of the time, rather than what I saw with my own eyes and saved to memory.

    I’ve also heard though that some seem to improve their longer term memory as they get older, being able to recall events and moments from 70, 80 or more years ago with a clarity they couldn’t a decade or two before. But then couldn’t tell you what they had for breakfast that morning…

    Memory is a very curious and endlessly fascinating topic indeed, and very intertwined with how and what we photograph.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I wrote this stream of consciousness and if anybody finds the text below the photo then it’s kind of an easter egg for them!

      My childhood photos do anchor some memories. Mom still has the photos from when I was very young and I haven’t seen them in 40 years. One day I hope to see them again and see what memories they unlock.

  3. bettyinparis Avatar

    I literally just had a conversation with my sister about this same topic last night. We were discussing a cousin who recently passed, and I said well he must have been at his beloved grandmother’s funeral 25 years ago (our great-aunt)…but I had no memory of him there and my memories of that day are as you said…jumbled flashes of a few moments. I’m a few years ahead of you and I’ll tell you it starts to get worse. But yet some things are so clear it’s like I’m remembering in real time. Memory is actually a fascinating subject. I also told my sister that I don’t remember a lot from times I was in a photography void (for me that was a good chunk of the 90’s). I sometimes think that if I hadn’t spent so much time taking pictures at other times, I’d likely not remember much at all! We’ve also talked about whether we are remembering events from our childhood because we truly remember, or because the photos my Dad took make us THINK we remember. It’s enough to make my head hurt. LOL.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      In the 90s I went to a conference for user experience professionals (I work in the software industry) and attended a fascinating talk about memory. The speaker helped a fellow remember what he had for lunch on some random date more than a decade prior, by asking a series of questions to reverse-traverse the memory tree in his head. It was astonishing. It’s all in there, the speaker said; you just have to learn how to access it.

  4. Marc Beebe Avatar

    I’ve reached a point where memory is like sorting through an old house full of stuff; you never know what you’ll find, it will probably be damaged, and it won’t be what you were looking for. But just sometimes it’s valuable.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      What a great summary of how a lifetime of memories works.

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