Near the beginning of the essay, The Memory of Photography (Bate, 2010) there is a paragraph that struck me as significant:
‘…new photo-archiving software programmes like Aperture, i-Photo, i-View, and Lightroom have accelerated the issue of how to archive photographic images and what to do with them once deposited. If we see these new repositories as a type of “memory bank”, complemented by the many devices designed to provide inputs to them like camera phones (and, of course, the computers and hard disks that support them, which are types of archives in themselves), then we have to ask what relation do these instruments have to existing notions of memory and photography?’
Shortly after reading it, and making an old-fashioned note in the margin of my printed copy of the essay, my computer – or it might have been my phone, doesn’t matter really – informed me that ‘You have a new memory.’ I put down my pen and clicked on the alert bubble.
The 14th of October 2006 was the last day of a short work trip to the Kosovan capital, Pristina. I had been overseeing the installation of a new audio desk in the BBC World Service office and – now everything was in finished – I had a last look at the new facility and then spent my last afternoon in the city walking and taking photographs.
When I was back home in London, I would have connected my still nearly new Nikon D50 to my G3 ‘Snow’ iMac (the first thing I ever bought off ebay) and imported the pictures (jpegs, rather than raw) into iPhoto. I would have tagged them, done a small amount of destructive editing on a few of them and – a few months later – uploaded a couple to flickr, where they form the basis of my ‘Pristina’ album.
And then… The eighty-seven photos I took that day would have formed part of my iPhoto library and sat on a series the hard discs of the progressively more powerful computers that I have owned. Somewhere along the way that library would have been converted to work with Photos, the 2014 replacement for iPhoto in Apple’s basic software package. My Photos library was eventually moved to an external drive and at some point – I must have ticked something, but I have no memory of doing so – started to automatically duplicate itself into ‘the cloud.’
It now exists in at least three places and the images it ‘contains’ can be accessed from all sorts of devices, including my phone and my iPad. They also all form part of the Photostream of one of my flickr accounts. Although they are not able to be viewed by anyone except for me, unless I say so, they have moved beyond my control. I’m not sure if I would ever be able to completely delete any of the images, even if I wanted to…
So now, fifteen years since I stopped working and went for a bit of an explore with my camera, Apple’s AI (artificial intelligence) engine has selected twenty-seven of the pictures I took that day and turned them into a ‘memory’ for me. Its edit isn’t bad at all – there is a nice range of different subjects and, when I took several photos of the same thing, mostly it has gone for the same picture as I would have – and, interestingly, it has only picked one of the images – the buff ceiling of the mosque – that I posted on flickr at the time, while ignoring the others.
It has done all this with only small amounts of data to work with: the date/time stamp in the jpeg. It seems to have ignored any manual tagging that I did at the same time when I moved the pictures from the camera to my iMac so it does not know where I was, but it has managed to recognise my face (when you look at the memory in iPhoto, you can see other, ‘related’ pictures of me). Other Photos-generated ‘memories’ are much more precise, picking up on the extra metadata wrapped up with images taken with my phone…
I’ve played with this sort of thing before, most recently when I took the receipt for an Oyster top-up, matched it to the automatically-generated journey record that is sent to me monthly by Transport for London and then found all the photographs I took while travelling about for a week or two. (It forms part of DIC assignment 4.) Then, as now, I found this use of non-visual information stored in image files, fascinating (and incredibly useful) as mnemonic devices. Stuff – and places, and experiences – I had not really thought about for ages came back into focus and links between different things made. I had been consciously reinserted into a chunk of time…
The Pristina ‘memory’ combines viewpoints when I was ‘inside’ my photographs (in the BBC office) with others where I was essentially a tourist and on the outside. If I was to share the memory more widely (as Photos suggests I might) I wonder if different people would react to the two points of view in ways that would reflect their own insider/outsider status in relationship to the subject matter, or whether they would all be left outside, looking in?
- Bate, D. (2010) The Memory of Photography In: Photographies, 3:2, 243-257 At: https://doi.org/10.1080/17540763.2010.499609 (Accessed 15/10/21)