Politics of Memory

The one unchanging truth in life is that life is always changing.   I’ve come to perceive this world through a splintered frame of reference- a shattered lens. Cutting the umbilical cord with home at a young age, I moved to India at seventeen after having been expelled from boarding school. In hindsight, this was a blessing in disguise, as India spawned my passion for photography.  My first camera was a cheap afterthought I picked up en route to the airport.   Incessantly attached at my hip, the 35 mm evolved as a means of salvaging memories of places and acquaintances lacing my travels.  India insisted on being documented.  Laying just outside modern civilization, it was a country where men lured cobras from baskets and rats traveled in herds.  Wandering into slums many would avoid or not think to transgress, I felt as if I was bestowed with a right of entry when armed with my camera.  Guided and at times misguided by curiosity, there would be instances where I’d end up in small shacks drinking tea with old ladies who would nod there heads back and forth, back and forth at me and smile. My first tryst with the medium was compulsive, almost obsessive.  Trivial observations were often the catalyst behind the click of the shutter.  There was a narrative I was weaving, a tapestry of experiences and acquaintances that years later I would salvage from temporal decay.  I captured these fleeting moments namely because I was afraid that these memories would slip away over time.

Two weeks ago and seven years later,  I find myself back home.  Clumsily searching for a red suitcase in the basement,  I stumbled upon a box of photographs from the aforementioned experience.  Six years in my parent’s basement left the stack stale, reeking of mildew, color faded and corners curled.  In the dimly lit basement, I began leafing through them.  I came across an old photograph of myself.  With fierce eyes and dirty fingernail, I stood on the ghats in Varanasi where the dead is ritualistically cremated.  The smell of burning flesh overpowered the musty stench of the basement.  Alone in the darkness, forgotten moments that had been sleeping in the folds of my memory flooded in- unadulterated by the passing of time.   A heavy calm fell over me as a remembered fields of mustard flowers and the magnolia trees that laced the road to Dharmasala. Faded recollections resurfaced of insomnia married with late night Bollywood films, the smell of post-rain shower during the monsoon, the children at the orphanage.  I remember the fluorescent glow of Commercial Street at dusk, the rigshaw walla without a thumb, the Jesus Christ nailed to the cross that swung side to side on the rear view mirror.

The poverty of experience at the hands of our hyper-accelerated society brings into question the politics of memory.   Recollections of the past inform who one is in the present, in that identity is constructed through the dynamic accumulation of the memories that come later to define us.  The resurfacing of forgotten moments feels like the embrace of an old lover.  There is something inexplicable about how photographs can so suddenly elicit a sea of feelings.   Yet, trying to articulate the profound subtlety at which an image deracinates thoughts long lost in the unconscious can be as difficult as attempting to nail pudding to the wall.  As the years sneak by and time slips away, I find myself photographing even the most banal moments believing I guess that one day it will reveal itself as significant.  But there is an honesty lacing these images, because they are not trying to be anything outside of what they are. I always thought it was those in-between days and un-monumental moments that harbor a truth that is beauty.


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