Is a photo worth a thousand words? Apparently not – that is unless you interact with the photos rather than just accumulate boxes of them under your bed or in a digital file somewhere. Photos and words make your memoir powerful and the story of who you are clear and memorable.
Relying on technology to record an event can detract from the experience and so the personal memory-formation of an event[i]. Emotion has a powerful impact on our memory. We recall events that have meaning for us in some way. It is a way of holding onto what we consider significant moments in our lives. Reflecting on a photo will help bring those memories forward although sometimes a photograph can affect our recall as well.
A group photo came to life recently of family members forty years younger. One family member was partially hidden behind someone else. Three people claimed the identify of that lone little body; and tempers did fly a little in the process. The matter was settled when one party drew attention to other details in the photo and gave them context.
It is the emotions aroused that we recall and not always the details. When I researched a story that I wrote on a day out of my childhood, namely the opening of the Parkes Radio Telescope, I realised I had remembered the emotions but not the facts. A memoir is your memories. It is a further dimension to a memoir to add historical data to confirm the context of your memory.
A photograph will help with the recall of a particular memory. Professional professionals will tell you a good photograph is one that causes an emotional response and is inspirational. It will speak to your emotions in one particular moment in time – it will tell a story and engage the viewer sometimes irrespective of the quality of the photo. Engagement can be about the structure or the subject and sometimes it is not necessarily tangible.
This can stimulate more questions than answers to those unfamiliar with the context of the times and situation. Relying solely on technology to record the event can have a negative impact on how the experience is remembered according to researcher Dr Henkel. Remembering is apparently greater when your present mood matches the mood you were in when the event occurred[ii] which could explain the value in reflecting on a photo to bring greater clarity.
Memory is also about words. Memory can be about the strangest details not captured in a photo, for example the smell of Sunday roast dinner in your grandmother’s kitchen. It may be about the touch of your mother’s lips as they brushed your cheek when she thought you were sound asleep in your bed. It may be about your father’s proud look as he gazed at you doing a dance you had learnt in pre-school that day, or your grandfather’s cheeky laugh as he played that trick on you for the hundredth time.
Memory can be about detailing all those jobs you did selflessly during war times, or how your mother ran her household when you were growing up. It may be about how you developed your business or profession and how it felt getting up each morning to do it all again.
Sometimes your memory can be triggered by conversations with someone who has an interest in the event or person, or a letter or photo that has come to light. I remember when I wrote the memoir of my grandparents and great-grandparents. It wasn’t until I got the photos and words together in a book and those over 80 in age in the same room, that memories ignited and exploded with the most amazing information.
Sometimes memories just emerge into our consciousness as slowly and effortlessly as clouds moving across the sky on a windless day.
Developing your memories and photos into something tangible like a book for future generations to read and savour is priceless. Putting your faith in the box of photos or a digital folder on your computer is risky business for preserving your legacy and your story. Photos and words together are magic.
[i] Henkel, L. A. 2014. Point-and-Shoot- Memories. The Influence of taking Photos on Memory for a Museum Tour. Psychological Science. 2014 25:39-402. First published December 5, 2013
[ii] McPherson, D. The role of emotion in memory. About Memory http://www.memory-key.com/memory/emotion