Visual Memory: Seeing the Past in the Present

August 07, 2012  •  1 Comment

Nature has programmed us all to have a keen sense of recognition. Faces, places, paths, plants, animals: we need to be able to remember where we found food or friendship, and to distinguish it from foe and famine. We need to be able to guess if the baby is a changeling or a person really is a relative as they claim. We have massive, built-in, scene- and face-recognition algorithms that are sparking, consciously or unconsciously, all the time.

Many photographers will be familiar with this sense of recognition when looking through the viewfinder or when scrolling through the tens of thousands of images in their photo library. For me, even a thumbnail can spark a sudden sense of familiarity and then a hunt for the other photograph of which I am reminded.

A while back, I started to put such images into pairs with their 'brothers' and mount them side by side. The 'match' can be  between images separate by tens of years of thousands of miles but in some way, when I see one of a pair, I know it and I have to hunt out its other part.

This pairing can be as simple as colour:

Peeling Greens, Kinsale and Walsingham or a little more complex, such as a mixture of colour and form, or in this case the inversion of colour but with similar form:

Two paths, Sussex Sometimes it is as simple as the way a surface looks, such as in this example where the colours are very similar, the forms are echoes in some respects, but the surfaces 'feel' the same in their slickness:

Southampton and St Malo Seas

At other times there just seems some looser, less clearly define match though this is helped when backed up by matching subject matter:

Chairs, New York and Barcelona Or we could look for similar 'verb-based' ideas such as 'subject walking through a tunnel', though a similar composition helps draw the pair together:

Blurred walkers, Venice and Estremoz

Then there are pairs whose union is in an idea, in this case the slightly surreal sense that some Big Brother project is underway: The sign left says 'CCTV in Operation.'

Warnings, Sussex and Regents Park Finally, my favourite subject for street photography: wry humour. Mine happens to be so wry that viewers might struggle to see where I'm coming from but the double irony of this pair appealed to me:

Elysian Fields I & II, Rackham and Littlehampton Whereas this last one is a little more obvious but I think quite funny: (these images are designed to be seen larger than my blog page can render them, but the sign on the right-hand image says 'Health Promotion Centre').

Cause & Cure, Viareggio Italy and Bridgetown Barbados So, on a rainy day, this can be quite fun, matching and pairing. I crop them so as to enhance their union, mount them in double-cut-out frames and they seem to engage their viewers. I'd be very interested to see any that others people have found, or whether anyone else has ever gone down this same road?

 


Comments

Future D800(E) user(non-registered)
Good blog, and interesting article. I think this pairing it's a mental exercise good for the mind, and it can even help our composition skills as we are seeking, identifying and recognizing several different structures and meanings, some of them very obvious but others more abstract.

We are in front of a scene which looks familiar to us, and our mind makes "click" and then recognize a similar scene we shot in the past. Many times we aren't aware of this on the fly but, when we dig into our archives, we can make the pairings.

Keep the good work on the blog!
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