This series is all about travel snaps, those ubiquitous photos we all take while on vacation. We take photos of the things we see and the people we are with, but why? To some extent we take these photos to share them with others back home, but the primary reason we take them is so we can use the images as repositories of our memories. Strangely we seem to not trust our own minds as storage places for our memories. To avoid losing these important remembrances we convert them through digital or chemical means into something less ephemeral and fleeting. We put our trust in computer files or actual photographs, things we can use as reference points to bring us back to where we were and how we felt.
Science tells us that using photographs as proxy memories is not a very good system in practice. Our memories are not solid, they are malleable and permeable. They can absorb things and dispose of things but our mind still demands a narrative. We need our memories, even when they become corrupted, to make sense and so our brains have a habit of replacing our cherished memories with equally cherished false memories.
The source of the information we include in our false memories is seemingly limitless, but some sources seem more likely to produce a realignment of our remembrances more than others. One of the leading researches on the subject of false memories, Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, has found that photographs can be prime sources for false memories. The images that we trust to remind of us of our personal histories actually turn us into revisionists, and our memories and stories are more likely to change when referenced to a photo than if not. So why do we trust our memories to photos that may very well cause us to recall our past incorrectly? Probably because we don’t know it is happening, but I know it is happening and still do it.
Memories are not just personal recollections, they are also stories we share. No one wants their memories or stories to be dull and pedestrian, we want them to be interesting and worthwhile. Sometimes our travel snaps may do this for us, if we take an extremely dramatic and beautiful photo. Of course most photos aren’t dramatic and beautiful, so instead of being left with a boring memory, I alter my photos to make them, and the stories that go along with them, more interesting. They are not fiction, the places and scenes are very real. I just make changes to the colors and lighting, or emphasize an element that would have normally gone unnoticed. I do not make them fake, I just make them less real, more surreal, more compelling, and, I hope, better at producing the kinds of memories I want to have.
Since the photos are no longer 100% accurate representations of what I have seen and where I have been, they stop representing just my memories, even my false memories. They are now available for producing false memories for everyone. If you have been to any of the places in my images they may very well change how you remember these places. It may even be possible that they will change how someone sees these places when they arrive at them for the first time. They may instill future false memories, only time will tell.