Sarah Williams


“Besides how could we remember everybody? Eyes, walk, voice. Well, the voice, yes: gramophone. Have a gramophone in every grave or keep it in the house. After dinner on a Sunday. Put on poor old great-grandfather Kraahraak. Hellohellohello amawfullyglad kraark awfullygladaseeragain hellohello amarawf kopthsth. Remind you of the voice like the photograph reminds you of the face. Otherwise you couldn’t remember the face after fifteen years, say. For instance who? For instance some fellow that died when I was in Wisdom Hely’s.[i]

It was seen, around the time of its invention, that the ‘veracity’ of the photographic image was a huge improvement on the many weaknesses of the human memory. This can be observed today in every family home; people have almost an obsession to capture their families and important events in photographs. However, it is this permanence of the photograph that threatens to destroy our original interior memory. After viewing a photograph many times, in the end it is only the photograph we remember and not the actual memory. “Photography, instead of being in the service of memory is actually in the service of forgetting,”  as one smart observer reported.

Over the past hundred years many of us have gradually replaced our internal memories with external aids. These technological crutches that have been invented are there so we no longer need to store information in our brains; we have gone from remembering everything, to actually remembering very little. We have photographs to remember what people looked like and events in our lives, calendars and diaries to keep track of our appointments, post-it notes to remember things we have to do, and books (and the internet) to store our collective knowledge. There are implications of replacing our interior memory with an external source; surely something will be lost in this process. What is at stake here is every part of our relationship with the world and the people in it.


[i]  Joyce, James Ulysses / with Ulysses: A Short History by Richard Ellman. (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969.) p 133