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How do visual memories decay? What is the visual quality of the memory? As events are stored in memory or forgotten, how do their visual features change? Is it all because of the inevitable progress of the passage of time? 

Memory comes with myths of accuracy and is a recording device. The idea that memory is a recording device rests on an unrealistic fantasy of accuracy and permanence. A myth regarding memory is that memory is about ‘reliving’ a permanent record stored in a filing cabinet. The science and understanding of memory have evolved over the course of history. Memories can never be a precise duplication of the original. Rather it’s a continuing act of creation. Memory is dialogic in nature and arises not only from direct experience but from the intercourse of many minds. In his book “Hallucination” Neurologist Oliver Sacks explores memory: 

“We now know that memories are not fixed or frozen, like Proust’s jars of preserves in a lander, but are transformed, disassembled, reassembled, and categorized with every act of recollection.” In a footnote he adds: 

“For [researchers] in the early twentieth century, memories were imprints in the brain (as for Socrates they were analogous to impressions made in soft wax) – imprints that could be activated by the act of recollection.”
Remembering is not the re-excitation of innumerable fixed, lifeless, and fragmentary traces. It is an imaginative reconstruction, or construction, built out of our attitude towards a whole active mass of organized past reactions or experience… it is hardly ever exact.” 

"The biggest lie of human memory is that it feels true." Jonah Lehrer wrote shortly before being engulfed during a whirlpool of escalating acquisition of atuoplagiarism and outright fabulation. Yet whereas we tend to already understand that memory isn't a mere recording device, the precise extent of its fallibility eludes - usually, quite unmistakably - most of us. 

We need to tackle a significant notion, an attempt is required in both personal and collective space to expose the remarkable mechanisms by which we fabricate our memories, involuntarily blurring the line between the experienced and assimilated. Neurologist Oliver Sacks tackles precisely that, “It is startling that some of our cherished memories may never have happened – or may have happened to someone else. I suspect that many of my enthusiasm and impulses, which seem entirely my own, have arisen from other’s suggestions, which have powerfully influenced me, consciously or unconsciously, and then been forgotten.”    

Memory deals with our imagination the same as our senses. There is no way by which the events of the world can be directly transmitted or recorded in our brains; events are experienced and constructed in a very subjective way, which is very different in every individual, to begin with, and differently reinterpreted or reexperienced whenever they are recollected.


Moreover, memory exists with a parallel anti-existence. A possibility lies with memory, as for light, there is the shadow, or for matter, there is anti-matter in the existence, similarly – in the case of memory – the phenomenon of forgetting exists parallelly, and is often undefined. Which is particularly common, if not inevitable. And there are various degrees of forgettings. Memories are inherently vulnerable and destined toward forgettings. Oliver Sacks extends it further, “Sometimes these forgettings extend to auto plagiarism, where I find myself reproducing entire phrases or sentences as if new, and this may be compounded, sometimes by genuine forgetfulness. Looking back through my old notebooks, I find that many of the thoughts sketched in them are forgotten for years, and then revived and reworked as new. I suspect that such forgettings occur for everyone, and they may be especially common in those who write or paint or compose, for creativity may require such forgettings, in order that one’s memories and ideas can be born again and seen in new context and perspective.” 

'Moonriver' holds together some memories, and persons, not according to the degree of importance or intensity but rather arbitrarily. Photographs of some events or persons were rephotographed in an iterative process, again and again in various sorts of conditions until they re-form the hypothetical decaying nature of memories. It follows the inherent nature of photography, that it records an event and photography contributes every time depending on the condition in which a photograph is rephotographed, mimicking the continuous act of creation that is the nature of memory itself.


Photographs, 2015-2020

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Debashish Chakrabarty
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