“Life is not significant details, illuminated by a flash, fixed forever. Photographs are.” ~Susan Sontag
When we look at photographs of ourselves as children we can sometimes laugh and talk about how we felt at the time, but do we honestly remember or are our “memories” mere byproducts of our parents telling us about the experience? There’s a photograph in my Mom’s apartment of me with a scrape on my forehead, and I have told the story ad nauseum throughout the years of my cousin Marcella, who was supposed to be watching us, of my Nana’s front stoop that was old and crumbling, and of my sister who egged me on. But how much of that is my true memory and how much has been pieced together for me by others?
As human beings, we naturally embellish. Even when we remember something perfectly it hardly ever gets repeated without something extra being added. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe it’s because we don’t think it’s worth repeating unless more happened than really happened. Or perhaps our minds just do it regardless, add in those details because we only caught bits and pieces when it was happening. Our brains are interesting that way, drawing connections and inserting transitions in events for continuity’s sake.
We never tell a remembrance the same way twice either, no matter how many people we tell. In each telling we either add or take out pieces with our audience in mind, even when we don’t realize it. I firmly believe that we subconsciously adjust our tales to fit the audience we’re regaling with the tale.
They say that every picture tells a story, that a picture is worth a thousand words, and that pictures don’t lie. But what a picture doesn’t tell are our thoughts when it was taken. Perhaps we were smiling to hide that we weren’t feeling well, or maybe our mouth was open in a scream, not in a laugh. Pictures are paused moments in time that capture merely the outward appearance. The rest we fill in over time with half-remembrances and with tales from others who were there.
As time passes the memories get even farther away from us so we have more holes to fill in. That’s one reason I like to write down experiences directly after the fact, so that they don’t get lost in the shuffle, so that when I go back in 10 years to revisit the experience I can go right back to the raw emotions and not just the photographic evidence. I imagine a time when I can access all of my raw emotional journal entries from my phone, so when someone asks me I can whip it out and read it word for word. That way the telling is the same despite audiences and the holes are all stitched up.
But what would be the fun in that?