Memory Collection


If you ever came to my apartment, you might notice that while I have beautiful artwork hanging, I do not have personal photographs of people or memories anywhere in view. If you traveled back in time with me to visit any dorm room I occupied or even my bedroom growing up, limited-photo-living has always been the case. It has become an aesthetic preference for me at this point. But I began to wonder if there is something more to why I find photographs so difficult to live with.

Before I continue, I want to clarify that I highly respect photography as a visual art form. I have some beautiful photographic art in my collection. Rather, I am talking in this particular post about the photo-documentation of one’s life and experiences. The topic of personal photographs is on my mind due to a series of events: a daytrip to Pennsylvania to visit my parents, the need to open an Instagram account to interact with our Mind Body Dancer community, and a recent dig into my personal archive for a document, during which I encountered some old performance photos.

I have never been a big photo-taker. Artistically, I think composing a shot is fascinating, and I am in awe of the combination of technique and vision it takes to be a skillful photographer. Somehow I never seem to remember to bring my camera and if I do, I don’t end up using it. I have always left the photos to someone else. Perhaps I am too engaged in the moment to think to pause and capture what is happening. Perhaps I am not skilled or surreptitious enough to do it well and that is what holds me back.

In addition to not being a practiced photographer, I have always been frustrated that when taking a snapshot of a special place or event, or of someone I love, the image does not capture them the way my eyes actually see them. There is a limitation to how true the end result is to the source. Again, I am not talking about artistic photography where you might desire a different result or interpretation. I just can’t get a photo to stand up to the reality that has been experienced!

For instance, I drove to my parents’ property last weekend and it was absolutely breathtaking. The colors, textures, and layers of trees and stone were something I wanted to hold onto for inspiration so I snapped a few shots…not even close. The blues were not deep enough, the contrast of red flowers and green leaves were too dull. The luscious world I could see and experience was flat and lifeless in comparison when captured this way. I gave up. I kicked off my shoes and walked around to experience it with my toes, hands, and senses instead.

So, my first challenge to living a life with photos is that what I see is never what I get.

Secondly, I find photo-documentation to be a complicated medium to use when telling the stories of our lives. As I attempt to connect for business reasons on Instagram, I think a lot about my young students who have been curating their whole lives in social media with photography. My personal photos were jammed into a photo album I might choose to show someone. They were not broadcast to everyone I knew in an instant. I wonder about this new mode of sharing. Are my students really telling the whole story? Is the full picture of who they are available in just a few snapshots? I hope not. And I hope they do not view the photographs of others and think that life is only made up of beautiful or special moments. That would be a tough expectation to work with. If we were being truthful, we would take photos of ourselves that would capture our more dull and vulnerable moments too. I would love to see a social media profile showing images of the bad days too. That would be a more honest and interesting life story. It sets the stage for realistic living and managing the ebb and flow that is there for each of us always.

Finally, there is the challenge of photographs pulling you out of the present. I recently found some old photos of me dancing in the early 90’s. On one hand, I love looking at the images of the beginnings of my professional dance career. But on the other hand, those images tempt me away from the present moment. In remembering those days, I began to glorify what it felt like to only be focused on dancing. It was simple (and believe me, “simple” sounds pretty appealing right now!). Yet since then, other goals and experiences in art and education have allowed me to accomplish far more than I knew I was capable of back then. I see that young dancer and I tell her I have a rich life, which still includes dance (she would be happy to know how truly grateful I am for that). I put the photos away so I could focus on today. Honestly, it is impossible to compare and contrast two different times and spaces. Reminiscing is interesting to a point, but then you might find yourself in the past, comparing it to your present. How helpful is such a practice? Are we capable of letting reminiscence happen without judging the present?

I guess it might be odd that I am content to remember my life’s moments via memories formed through senses and stories and reflections instead of through snapshots. However, it is interesting to note that the recent events that sent me on this thoughtful journey about my relationship with photos were not extraordinary in nature. Perhaps that is the essence of what I am curious about. If I were too busy waiting for the next photo-perfect moment, would I have missed what was happening in between those moments? It seems to me that the truest moments in life are not what we choose to put into picture frames or post online…rather, they are the ones that are really about living.

What is your relationship with photographs? What are your thoughts? I welcome all comments because this is a topic I am curious about for larger intellectual reasons. How does what we see inform what we expect, and how are images being chosen to tell a specific story? Do you find photos from your past inspiring or limiting in framing the present moment?

– TaraMarie Perri

8 Responses to “Memory Collection”
  1. Elissa (Gotha) McMeniman says:

    I’m a little biased on this topic, because I love taking photos of all kinds.

    As a sentimental window to the past, I think snapshots are kind of a trigger: they can never really capture a person, a moment, a relationship. They can, however, help us access memories of those things. How many times have we seen a bad snapshot of a grandparent sitting in his favorite chair? We instantly imagine the entire living room, as we saw it growing up. Perhaps we remember what it was like to cuddle with him – the cozy sweater against our cheek, the arms around us. (In my case, also the smell of pipe tobacco.) They can also trigger stories that we tell others. My children won’t have an accurate story of my grandfather’s life by looking at the pictures, but I can use the image to tell a story and describe my memories. I agree that it is hardly an accurate summary of one’s life to only have happy visuals, but I guess I’m ok not re-living those moments… as long as I remember that they did exist, and that I survived them.

    I also think that photos can, in a way, free our mind to be able to live in the present. If we know that we have photographs to help us remember the past, we don’t have to devote current brainpower to capturing it forever.

    Really talented photographers *are* able to capture more complexity in their images. A really wonderful portrait can tell others about that person’s life. A really good photograph can show love, show sadness, be an icon for a generation. What I love about taking portraits: the potential to capture that special look between people, to see the way my mom throws her head back when she laughs, the innocent looks of my children, the laughter in their eyes. ALL my photos don’t do this, but every now and then, if I’m lucky, I can capture a glimpse of something truly meaningful.

    I share your frustration with capturing the beauty of nature, and there are some things that a two-dimensional photograph – no matter how good – will never communicate. A photo of the Grand Canyon will never communicate what it feels like to stand on the edge. It can capture some of the red earth tones, and can create some wonderful 2-dimensional patterns that are interesting to look at. I think some of your frustration may be that you are a creative person who thinks in poetry. You have the skill to translate that into dance (something i definitely do not possess)… perhaps take a photography class to translate it into this medium? 🙂

    (Sorry: perhaps this was more info than you were looking for? 🙂

    • mindbodybrew says:

      Elissa –

      I am so glad you weighed in! You are one of those people who I watch photograph moments in your childrens’ lives at parties or holidays and I am just blown away by how you capture their spirits. They come alive off the the screen and I feel like I am there. Clearly, you have skills and an eye for it. Perhaps I do need to take a class. Perhaps it is just a matter of medium. Learning to shoot with skill would be fun so it could become something I could use more effectively (though I am still not sure I could snap photos of people if given a choice).

      I am particularly intrigued by your comments about how photos clear your mind to not carry the burden of capturing the memories…and the emotions that went with it or an iconic moment. I especially want to think more about the ability for a photo to remind you of sensory experiences. There is an interesting brain trip to go on…when we remember a smell or texture with total specificity…

      Thank you for helping me navigate these questions!

      And keep snapping…you have the gift. I can live vicariously through your beautiful photos.


  2. Liz says:

    Your thoughts on your students’ social media documenting got me to thinking…..I myself don’t have many photos of my loved ones in my personal space – perhaps because I often don’t think to take photos of the smaller moments or perhaps because I appreciate speaking to them on the phone or in person and thus try to prioritize that activity, rather than just looking at images of them to conjure up memories; I would rather make more memories than think about them (maybe?). I also prefer to take photos of the environments I’m surrounded by, especially on trips, to which my family and friends could attest. Something to investigate now that I’ve read this post 🙂

    But about the social media photo trends….I find myself posting photos on Facebook for various reasons, none of them being pressed by the intention to tell my full life story. Rather, I post photos so that my family and friends who weren’t there can share in a morsel of that moment; I post photos so that I myself can look back on that fun and appreciate what my life has wrought that much more; and I post photos (and enjoy being tagged in photos) that remind me of those smaller moments and the ways in which those seemingly mundane moments are the true components of what string a life together. They remind me of the need to love and to live, which in my eyes are far more important than where my career takes me, for example (but that’s just me, that certainly varies for others). Thank you for this stimulating post!

    • Elissa (Gotha) McMeniman says:

      Nicely put, Liz!

    • mindbodybrew says:

      Liz –

      You present we with challenging counter-ideas to the in-between moments theory. Perhaps the images are like asana in a yoga practice – roadmarkers to remind us of the bigger journey – clearly there was a path taken to navigate from one to the other. It sounds like you use personal photos as an outline to support a real great story…

      Chewing on that one 🙂

      – TaraMarie

  3. Elissa (Gotha) McMeniman says:

    For instance: love, joy, laughter….


  4. mindbodybrew says:

    Here is one of the PA photos that stirred up the thoughts behind this post. Driving up to my parents property, I observed how the sky and trees and stone all interacted to greet me. Part nature, part brilliance on the part of my parents’ landscaping/design taste. The shot does not capture it the way I hoped (I realize that taking the photo from behind a car windshield not the best approach…but the view would have changed were I not in that exact spot).

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