Photogenic Memory

11 Jul

I assume most everyone has a vast collection of photographs, both printed and digital, that are purely narcissistic pleasures for their owners. Blurry shots of people half-remembered, images of white hot smiling ghosts caught in the instantaneous glare of the camera’s flash, we’ve all got them. Despite their flaws, we pore over these photographs lovingly from time to time, perhaps whenever they need to be packed up for moving or during family holidays when the only other people in the world who might be remotely interested in your personal photographs are assembled under one roof. These mementos become visual cues which spark our reminiscence, sometimes supplanting our memories entirely with the confined, rectangular image. As you age, pictures from years gone by take on an ethereal sense; despite the hard evidence, it’s difficult to accept that the retard in wrap-around Oakleys and a Hypercolor t-shirt is actually you. But it is you, assuredly and incontrovertibly. And if you don’t want anyone else to see this picture, you’ll cough up some hush money.


I’ve long felt that some ostentatious marriage ceremonies could have been served better if a wedding photo shoot was staged for the benefit of an album or albums, and then everyone changed into comfortable clothes for a casual outdoor picnic. I’ve attended many weddings with so many collective events, costumes, vendors and guests to wrangle, all within a set schedule, the bride was almost always having a full-blown panic attack while the groom sat and stared, a future victim of post-traumatic stress disorder. Why go through all of that shit? The point of the thing is that everyone gets together, celebrates a great love and (more importantly) showers the happy couple with money and gifts. In twenty, thirty years, all you’re going to remember is the photographs anyway, so save some money and a lot of stress: stage the wedding, invite your most wealthy relatives out for a nice celebratory dinner. If you’re lucky, they’ll pick up the dinner check and you can spring for a wedding videographer complete with green screen.


Since many of our memories are comprised of what we see in photographs, it’s no wonder that some photos get augmented or thrown out along the way. Memories that are too painful, too embarrassing to lug around for the rest of your life. There are many defaced high school yearbooks, photos torn in half so that an offending party is excised, carefully cropped jpegs in everyone’s personal collections. When we fuck around with our own pictures, it’s really not a big deal: they’re our property, these images and the memories they inspire. That we wish not to remember, we simply choose to forget. But when I think that some images are manipulated by nefarious forces, perhaps to show public figures in a particular light or to omit events from history entirely, I get a little creeped out. To be frank, in the digital age I assume this happens more often than not. I don’t even upload photos to my computer without adjusting for red eye and tastefully editing for content, I can only imagine the high-level image manipulation happening behind the scenes of Prevention magazine.


The mind-boggingly talented media watchdog András Brém tipped me off to this bit of historical retcon, in the form of movie advertisements being slipped into reruns of popular sitcoms, in this case How I Met Your Mother. It’s the kind of thing that makes me chuckle nervously while tugging at my shirt collar, for while no one with a modicum of personal standard would ever defend the artistic integrity of How I Met Your Mother, those familiar with the program will know that the entire story hinges on continuity, the protagonist telling his own story in retrospect, reflecting on years that specific episodes actually aired. So when a scene from an episode that aired–and therefore took place–in 2007 shows a subtly-placed movie poster for The Zoo Keeper, well it kind of throws the timeline all out of whack. It’s like if we changed FDR’s first inaugural address so that he said, “…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, and not taking advantage of half-price Wednesdays all summer at Taco Bell,” or dredging up footage of Fred Astaire to sell modern vacuum cleaners. Which, incidentally, somebody already fucking did.


In the grand scheme of things, no one does or should give a shit if some stupid movie is being advertised in reruns of an even stupider television show. I suppose it devalues the already struggling cultural currency that is prime-time television, though if that common denominator gets any lower we’re going to have to come up with a number lesser than negative infinity. I suppose that they show the book edition of The Zoo Keeper instead of a DVD or something else innocuous in one scene could be considered an attempt to promote literacy (Really, you should read the book. Kevin James gets raped by a llama in it.) But if we blithely accept this kind of manipulation, when does it end? Should we expect to see Fred Flintstone fiddling with his iPhone or Hawkeye from M*A*S*H spouting anti-North Korean propaganda in syndication? When we look at old photographs, can we be positive that events played out as shown? Considering the high number of humiliating shots I have of myself, I’m kind of banking on the hope that they’ve all been doctored.

You don’t click on hotlinks, and I don’t blame you. But you shouldn’t miss out on the spectacular portfolio of András Brém, which can be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/andras_brem/sets/72157594377053631/. You would know that, if you clicked the hotlink on his name above.

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