“My first memory has always been of me and my mom on a cold grey day down at some beach in Washington, along the Puget sound somewhere near Seattle. I would be around two or three years old and we’re with a friend of mine from the neighborhood and his mom. Walking around among the driftwood looking for crabs. Even now, I can remember the smell and temperature of the air, the feeling of the sand and the swaying tall grass I can even remember looking over at my friend and how his face looked when he smiled back at me Another memory that I’ll sometimes recall as my first memory is dressing up in the dead of winter as Jack London with tennis rackets on my feet and wearing my dad’s hiking pack, in the middle of summer after seeing Disney’s (terrible) version of White Fang. or There’s the memory of stealing my neighbor’s big wheel and riding it halfway down the block before getting caught and having to turn around defeated, or of wearing a fireman’s outfit while washing my parent’s car, or eating an orange popsicle from the ice cream truck.
These are and have always been some of my most distinct and persistent memories of childhood, so i came as a disappointment to me when one day as a teenager I opened up a photo album and found pictures of each and every one of those memories. I didn’t have a single memory that didn’t belong to or somehow grow from pictures my parents had taken of me when I was growing up even the scenes I remember so clearly in my head are from the same angles as those photographs and I don’t really know what to to make of it. I’m going to guess that I’d seen all theses photographs at some point, forgotten they were just photographs and over time made them into my most tangible memories. That’s scary to me in a way.”
Warren Gamaliel Bancroft Winnipeg Harding
April 6th, 2008
When I first read that, my thoughts immediately turned to my childhood. My first real “distinct” memory being my third birthday. We gathered around the glass-topped octogon table in the lounge room in the morning. My first tricycle, pink with white foam or rubber wheels, was my gift. It was small and light enough that it was sat upon the table.
Before that, vague moments exist. Snippets of a holiday to Perth when I was 2 and a half. Burning my arm on a hot iron at 18 months. Sitting in a green shell pool in the side garden by the carport at less than a year old. I am not even sure if those memories are real, or if they have been ingrained into me through photos and retellings over the years. Particularly my burn. I can picture the event from start to finish, from pulling the cord from the ironing board, to being thrown screaming into a bath with running cold water. My mum half dressed for work. I believe that it all stems from being told the story dozens of times over.
Yet these moments still feel a part of my history as real and tangible as what I ate for breakfast this morning. They might be insignificant in the grand scheme of who I am, but they still feel real. Our memories are biased, self-serving and at worst, completely false in some cases. Our memories lie to us every day.
If we try hard enough, and look back long enough, our history changes and distorts itself depending on our later needs and experiences. Stare at a photograph long enough, and it can be whatever you want it to be.
The camera never lies is a lie unto itself. So long as the human memory is fallible the camera creates its own truth, to be reinterpreted countless times over.