How Digital Image Capture Impacts Our Personal Past

How Digital Image Capture Impacts Our Personal Past
Piers Fawkes, PSFK
  • 26 may 2009

In an article for the Financial Times, author Charles Fernyhough describes some of the thoughts he had as he captured his daughter’s history for his book The Baby in the Mirror. He says that today’s child is videoed, photographed, posted on Facebook and tweeted about endlessly and asks how this generation has been shaped, enhanced or harmed by their exposure to digital image-making.

In the early days the movie camera was saved “for best” (special events and family celebrations), [now] it is increasingly used to record everyday activities, particularly when the subjects are babies or when children themselves are doing the recording.

…Exposure to such recordings has a profound effect on how we make sense of our own pasts. Photos and videos, watched and rewatched after the event, are absorbed seamlessly into the stories of our lives. From around two and a half, kids have a good understanding of how photographic representations work. They realise that an image represents a bit of reality and are beginning to understand that changes to the reality after the photo was taken will not somehow magically make their way into the representation. Videos are probably more powerful than photographs in cementing memories because they capture the details of the actions involved (riding a bike, scoring a goal), as well as other contextual information such as the wind in the trees or the music that was playing. In more vivid detail than a family snapshot, a home movie will show children where they have been and what they did there, and help to fill in the details of a memory that can potentially last a lifetime.

…Filmed evidence of our early lives is never going to be a perfect record. For every scene that takes its place in the director’s cut of Athena’s life, there will be plenty – unrecorded, and so never replayed – consigned to oblivion. This contrast between the remembered and the forgotten is likely to be even sharper in Athena’s case, given that the remembered has now been written about and reproduced in a couple of publishers’ print runs.

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