Photographic Memory

Photography was invented as a monochrome process, and until the mid-1960s, and even into the 1970's, photographic representation was, for the most part, black and white. That's how we remember the past: in black and white. In the movies, which are a self-conscious medium, the actors and set designers knew that their world was black and white, and dressed, made-up and designed sets accordingly. To what degree the ordinary person--knowing at least on a practical level, that he would be forever remembered as a motionless, slent, small, two-dimensional monochrome image--dressed and posed with the same concept in mind? Did make-up arise to sharpen the image? Did the soldiers of the Civil War disgard the gauds and plumes of earlier wars in favor of the blue (dark) and the grey (light) which distinguish them in their stiff, posed photographs?

We know that they were in color, but we have only a black and white record. The world of painting was a world of color. But, the real world, the world of Great-Uncle Arthur, and Great-Great Grandmother Sarah--ordinary people standing once or twice in their lives before the camera--was black and white. That's how we remember them, and that's how they knew they would be remembered.

(January 6, 1998)


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