Whenever I flip through photos (and in this instance I mean hard copy, printed pictures), I’m drawn quickly to the ones that are white-bordered. The border is like a fog, or a mist, or a cloud that frames the picture. Somehow, because of this cloud, the photo becomes both more real and more elusive. That cloud, I realized, simulates what we commonly think of as memory.
In May, there was a piece in the New Yorker about Gordon Bell of Microsoft, who has set out to record everything he has done in life in digital form. This includes emails, recordings of phone calls, news clippings, and a host of other minutiae from his daily activities. Frankly, the project sounds incredibly dull — his son called it “egocentric”– and slightly mad. (As an aside, I was interested that the article also claims that Bell began this project because of a phone call from Raj Reddy at Carnegie Mellon, who I know from the Indian community in Pittsburgh). Who wants a montage of one’s life down to the smallest detail? Do I really want to see that movie stub from War of the Worlds again? And as a friend told me, sometimes you just want a few secrets.
Memory is certainly fallible and untrustworthy. An inhibitor of agreement and confuser of facts. But it’s precious in a way that simple digital renderings are not. It’s precious because it’s not tangible. It’s maddening in its elusiveness. Memory makes me suffer, in the same way eating that extra puri you know you can’t possibly stomach does. I hope to die before losing the ability to remember.
Once I asked why people took photos. It seemed to me that photos left nothing to the imagination. And so, I look instead at the white borders of memory. A place where the facts merge with the imagination. To me, that is the true picture.