More Valuable Now Than Ever
“In these all-seeing days, the traffic between memory and forgetting becomes untrackable,” Teju Cole wrote in his beautiful essay on photography and “our paradoxical memorial impulses.” But what is memory, exactly?
Neuroscientists have identified memory as central to our experience of identity. It refers to the processes that are used to acquire, store, retain, and later retrieve information. There are three major processes involved in memory: encoding, storage, and retrieval.
Photography is a tool that can be relevant to all three major processes involved in memory. So much so that I always refer to myself as a “High priest of memory protection” rather than as a photographer.
As we struggle with the isolation mandated by the pandemic, photography seems more important than ever. The ability to reconnect with happier times by looking through our photographs is truly a gift.
I am reminded of so many great photographic experiences as I look through all the old hard drives, prints, books, magazines, featuring my images.
Each week, I start with a walk down memory lane, picking a specific time or place or subject and then I seek out photographs I’ve made relating to that time or place or subject.
I have been a traveling man for many decades. I am used to being on the road. And perhaps that is one of the hardest things for me personally during the stay at home orders here in Washington state. I am used to being on the road, moving with the birds, documenting their lives, telling their stories. Now, I am home-bound, and reliant on the birds to come to me. Since I live in a house that was just built last September, in a new neighborhood, with no mature plants, trees or shrubs to offer cover, sadly, the bird visits here are few and far between.
So I look through my catalogs and find solace in the trips from the past.
My trip to Bosque del Apache, National Wildlife Refuge last year was the subject of this week’s memory recall.
I spent a month on the road in my “work truck,” driving from my home on the Kitsap Peninsula near Seattle, to central New Mexico and the refuge, which is located a few miles south of the tiny town of San Antonio, New Mexico.
The “work truck,” is my 2019 RAM Rebel which I have heavily customized and converted into my photo mobile.
The drive was leisurely. And the trip was a blast. I didn’t have any firm plans. I simply gave myself lots of time to make the trip and set out to the south.
I drove 31 hours, more than 1700 miles. I drove through Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. My destination? The Bosque del Apache, National Wildlife Refuge near San Antonio, NM. And then I did it again, in reverse. More than 3400 miles on the open road. Lots of photo opps and a bunch of great memories.
My “Photo Mobile” was extremely comfortable and had no issues on the trip. The freedom of being able to leave my gear in the truck each night so it would be temperature adjusted was great. Everyone who took their gear into the hotel for the night had to battle condensation issues, which, if left unchecked, can ruin your gear.
I enjoyed the freedom of the open road in my “work truck.” It performed like a dream. And there was nobody from TSA telling me what I could and could not bring in the truck!
I also enjoyed all the comments the truck got. Everywhere I went, people asked about the truck. It probably got more attention than I used to in my $200k Porsche 911 GT3 RS! Even photographers who saw me at Bosque wanted to see how I store my gear in the truck. I guess it’s pretty popular.
The four wheel drive came in handy on the Refuge when it snowed. Lots of vehicles got banged up by the deep ruts that can occur when the Refuge road gets wet. There was also plenty of mud 🙂 But then again – that is what RAM designed the Rebel to handle.
I went over three major mountain passes on the way and again on the way back, with no issues.
I was honored to speak at the Festival of the Cranes. It’s one of the oldest, and most respected bird/photography festivals in North America. I also led some private and group workshops and did some assignment shooting on that trip. I was scheduled to speak at the 2020 Festival of the Cranes, but unfortunately, the festival organizers have already decided to cancel this year’s event out of abundance of caution. Part of me thinks that decision was made too early. It may in fact be the thing that needs to happen, but I wish they would have waited until the time got closer to decide. Assuming the refuge is open, and that it is safe, I plan to go this year in any event.
Looking back on that trip, by sorting out a few pictures of the work truck and a few of my favorite bird photos from that trip, I had no idea it would be so important to me today. The fact that I can look back so fondly on that trip and that I have these pictures to help me remember the experience, that is a priceless gift.
Hopefully you will find time during the pandemic to look into your own photo memories. Share them with your family or friends. Relive them and hope for better days. It’s the big payoff of photography. Cameras are really just time machines, propelling us into the past.
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