Saturday, June 30, 2007

A Mirror Of Memory

Memory is fallible at worst, imprecise at best.

"Did I really say that?"

"Look how young he looks in that picture!"

"I don't recall..."

"That's not the way I remember it."

History, it has often been said, is written by the victors, it may consist of memories, as in oral traditions, its basis may be in various forms of documentation, all subject to interpretation. There are even movements to deny certain aspects of recent history, such as the Holocaust and other mass exterminations by the Nazi regime during World War II. These people have their own agendas and beliefs which supersede any rational considerations.

Sometimes, however, a little bit of the past emerges: photographs in a yellowed, crumbling scrapbook, a veteran's scrapbook of his travels during the war, with two pages of pictures simply labeled "Dachau Prison Camp". In the course of my employment I often deal with images of a disturbing nature- forensics, medical records and accidents. With the Internet, images of all sorts are available to everyone- but these are often scanned from copies of copies, or otherwise re-imaged. But there is something about an original photo that gives the viewer an unmatched sense of immediacy. These were contact prints from roll film, on paper that was pressed against film that was there. With information from other clippings in the book, I checked out the veteran's story; it all matched.

All the books and articles in the world, while necessary, are hard-pressed to match a little silver and gelatin coated piece of paper from sixty-two years ago. This wasn't the first such private archive I've dealt with, and there are many others.

By Professor Batty


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