Photos: Enhancing or supplying memory?

“Without pictures of ourselves, we would most likely lose a sharp idea of what we physically looked like at a younger age.” (pg. 100).

Does that idea scare anyone else? I freaked out a little bit, to be honest, at that idea. It got me thinking about the power of photographs to construct memory, especially memory of things that happened before we are old enough to really remember them. Here’s a personal anecdote exploring that idea:


Me at about 3 years old, with my big bird cup with the yellow lid on the porch outside our house in Hunter’s Creek. We always used that tupperware bin with the pink lid as a table outside. This picture brings back so much more than I could put into words.

A few weeks ago, I was hanging out with my mom and we were talking about the first house we lived in and the things we used to do together before my sister was born when I was three. We were sharing all these memories about the house and our back patio and how we used to sit and eat popsicles in the summer together and we were completely on the same page, until I said, “and I had that plastic cup with the straw and the yellow lid with big bird or something on it.” And my mom couldn’t remember this cup at all, this cup which was such a huge part of the set of memories I had of this house and this time in our lives. I kept trying to describe it and she was completely blanking. Then a few weeks later, recently, I was at her house and we were looking through some old photo albums from around that time period – and there is a picture (much like the one in my mind) of three-year-old me sitting on the back patio with my yellow-lidded big bird cup! And suddenly the memory came flooding back to my mother. But was it because she saw it in the photograph and therefore couldn’t really deny that it was there? Or was it because the photograph actually triggered the memory in her mind? And also, how many times had I seen that photograph – did I actually remember the cup I had when I was three, twenty years later, or did I remember later instances of seeing this photograph and did I use that to bolster my actual memory or even supply it entirely?



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