Street corners, restaurants, cafes – cups of oat milk lattes and black Americano’s. Sunset scenery, fields of trees nestled amongst vast views of country. My Insta feed resembles a creative glimpse of fantasy – much like reminiscing the 90’s as a decade of untainted joy. We like to pretend our photography obsession has meaning. We’re connecting, documenting, but we’re not exactly remembering. Studies suggest taking photos reduces memory.
How taking photos reduces memory
It doesn’t make sense. You’d think capturing an image to preserve through time would help our brains keep track. There’s nothing like an old photo album to entice reminiscing. Some studies suggest this true – there’s a catch to this debate. Reported in The Cut, new research reveals photos help improve our vision of a moment. However, by helping us recall “visual aspects”, photography can hinder other senses such as sound.
When I reflect on childhood birthday parties and holidays abroad, I think not only of the Kodak snapshots we took – I relive the lively sights as little clips of story. The places not captured feel most recognisable. Clearly, I can transport myself back to the markets in Greece – coloured stones dazzling the gold and white metal jewels, next to the three-story restaurants which awakened the streets with music. And if I hold the picturesque scene for long enough, I can almost taste the scent of Greek food.
Memories aren’t just about sight. Have you looked at a photo before, and realised the moments before and after seem blurry? Without our other senses, our minds are left to fill in the gaps of what happened. This can lead to an unclear picture and memories without substance. In addition, taking photos reduces memory, by the quantity of images we now like to take and store. According to The Independent, “too many images can block other memories” by making us view the past in a specific way.
Instead of attempting to make our photographs reflect who we are, we boldly admit to loving VSCO filters and spending a good ten minutes shooting to select the perfect photo – the photo where we’re smiling at the camera with both eyes open, and no awkward squinting and body compositions. Photography has become a distorted technology, functioning differently from its original use. Rarely do I scroll back on my Instagram feed – it’s not a tool for helping me to appreciate my experiences. That’s the lie we like to say – photos help cherish our lives, because it sounds better than admitting we’re capturing ourselves to show off, gain some social attention, and to prove we’ve been somewhere.
Film cameras offered a more natural reality. You couldn’t keep clicking until you ran out of poses – you had a set number of takes. I use to carefully select the best statues and the most beautiful architecture, choose one or two poses and hope for the best. I couldn’t overthink or edit the truth, I simply stood and debated whether or not to smile. Now with digital, the endless possibility, we can just keep modifying our fakery. Less skill is required from both model and photographer. And because social media enjoys new content from bored scrollers, the fakery quadruples. We capture the most mundane activities harmlessly. Not realising our hundreds, (thousands), of photo files are messing with one of the mind’s greatest assets.
Stylist magazine has discussed how edited photos affect memory. The piece made my jaw drop when stating “The average millennial will take more than 25,000 selfies” within their lives. That’s a lot of staring and self-analysing – on top of the analysation happening without a camera. Beyond the selfie obsession, the publication explains how edited photos can distort how we see ourselves, as well as adjusting how we remember the past. I have to remind myself at times, the photos where I look skinnier, healthier and prettier (in my opinion), are pictures of me breathing in, next to a brightened sky, with a smoothed complexion.
Taking photos reduces memory – is it time we cut back?
Whether or not you use Instagram for selfies and outfit shots, it’s hard to know what’s truly worth the capture. How healthy can it be to keep checking back on what we were doing this time last year or the year before? On occasion, a memory has cropped up on FB or IG, and depending on my mood or my current schedule, I either smile fondly or make dreadful comparisons. Not forgetting, actually taking images can spoil moments happening.
The uncomfortable distraction out of a conversation – “sorry, do you mind taking a picture of me here?”. The immediate adjustment from slouching to elegantly sitting with hands resting my head or holding my drink. I love photography because of its unrealistic interpretation. I feel more confident and freer – I can go from insecure to powerful, unconfident to sexy… a simple pose, angle and facial expression can imitate childhood dress up. With a professional, it’s easy to unleash an alter ago and show a new side. They focus on the technical, I hone in on character concepts.
Perhaps that’s a tragedy when I glance back and comprehend my photos don’t present my true self. I’m characters showing snippets of personality, not placing my whole truth. We depend greatly on photographs to represent our past and emphasise our present. If the photos aren’t really honest, are we merely looking back and holding on to visual lies?
Tips on finding balance
Don’t delete your original photos. I try to tell people how bad my acne developed and I cannot find an image to prove it. Filters can become outdated and our styles can change. I also think it’s healthy to acknowledge that Instagram and reality are two different things. I want the photos I post and share, to be different to the pictures I keep for their actual memory. Which means, accepting a few clicks for an Insta shot, and accepting one or two takes for my private collection.
I don’t want every image to face scrutiny and receive a glossy makeover. A final point I’m considering – when I next go away, perhaps asking – ‘how important will this snap be in years to come?’ might save me from losing some audio retention. Taking photos reduces memory, but for an Instagrammer and blogger, I’ll have to work on creating balance.