copyright Harvey Benge 2010 courtesy the artist
Memory is a very tricky thing. Sometimes it just seems that the things that you want to forget are somehow stuck between your eyebrows regardless of what you attempt to do to forget them. Other times, there are those memories you cherish and never want to lose, and the more you attempt to hold on to them, it seems the more transit they become. This is the subject that Havey Benge is investigating in his recent DIY photobook, Against Forgetting.
Our brains are utterly fascinating as the suck up all of our life experiences and tuck them all away in our bio-memory cells. Over time, we have trouble finding them in that big soft gray mass between our ears, but on occasion, something triggers them to shout out, we are still here! That emotion trigger can be a smell, a touch, or a sound but for a lot of us, that trigger is a photograph. This is not lost on Kodak, Fuji, Canon and Nikon to name but a few, as millions and millions in cash has been spent on the attempt to capture a precious moment for prosperity.
Benge’s photobook is a record of personal memories, very autobiographical but embodied with symbolism about memories, as well as a narrative about change, loss, grief, pain, celebration and life. When attempting to recall the past, sometime the flood waters of memory can also carry with it some debris, that memories can be delightful or saddening or both, bittersweet.
Benge utilizes a wonderful narrative device; the past is represented with black and white photographs, while the current “reality” is in glorious Technicolor. Perhaps in reality, there were only a few events photographed in color due to the additional expense and color prints had a notorious habit of fading over time. Nevertheless, it is an effective tool in Benge’s hands.
The category of bittersweet is the feeling that I take away from Benge’s photographic story. I sense the naivety of youth and enjoying the moment, not knowing about the complexities of the world. The house he lives in probably seems huge, the yard expansive and the neighborhood a delight to play in and the parents are there forever and probably taken for granted. The black and white photograph of a young couple, as if photographed from a child’s perspective, are immortalized with dark hair, easy smiles, standing tall, and timeless. They do not show the ravages of time.
We are provided with the compare and contrast of the house that Benge’s father build in the 1940’s, in the context of the surrounding neighborhood. The boxy house is blurred in the black and white photograph, as indistinct and out of focus as all of the memories that are shrouded around it. The memories are not as sharp and delineated as the original experience that occurred in the moment. Yes the photograph does capture the outline of the house, the placement of the bushes and the flow of the front walk. But hazy and indistinct, similar to the blurry photograph of the house, are the faded memories of the sounds and noises, the smell of the air, the feel of the breeze or heat and humidity.
A photograph is a two-dimensional object, but we hope that this object triggers all of the other tactile memories as well.
By Douglas Stockdale