Where Will Your Memories Go?
By Paul Lamprill
At a recreational gathering at New Zealand retirement community, I had the good fortune to meet musician Jack Claridge. I subsequently made a movie about him as I saw him as a local cultural treasure. In 1956, Jack opened Claridge’s, the ‘Cabaret by Candelight’ nightclub venue in Lower Hutt, and there were regular live national radio broadcasts from the club. Jack now lives at Coastal Villas, Paraparaumu, on New Zealand’s Kapiti Coast, but at age 96 he still plays his vibraphone on stage - and many of the same tunes popular since 1946!
My little movie motivated Jack and his family to have me conduct a more comprehensive series of interviews with him about his life. They felt that Jack should have the opportunity to tell his stories in his own words for his descendants. I felt he was the only one who was able tell his story authoritatively and to preserve it in his own style. He was certainly willing and still able, so the opportunity was not to be missed. I felt very privileged to make those recordings and in so doing, share in Jack’s compendious and rich history.
In early 2019, I attended my brother Peter’s funeral in the United Kingdom. He died on Valentine’s day without regaining consciousness, hours after I arrived from New Zealand. He was 82. In trying to gather information for his eulogy, I realized that there existed no recording of his voice, his laughter, or his story telling. There were no motion pictures to remember his gait, his swagger, his smile erupting from a deadpan face, his gestures, his wicked winks, and no record of candid recollections, or moments of play with his kids, grandkids or his dog. Like my parents, he continues to live only in my heart and mind, places inaccessible to others. For others, there is only hearsay, and for hard evidence, only crumpled, faded photographs. These, from the pre-digital era, are quite poor in quality and number, but the value of those images is inestimably high, perhaps relative to their scarcity.
While I was casting about among Peter's more local relatives for any recordings of him, I realized that he was the victim of a technological divide. For Peter, photographs, and to a large degree other forms of documentation, had been an absent luxury for most of his life. Growing up in mostly rural Yorkshire before the war, there was probably little opportunity for taking casual photographs. Those that exist are formal records of events – birthdays, school portraits, national service, team sports line-ups, family gatherings, official day trips – the special events. Such images were often posed and inanimate, serving their purpose, and reflecting the technology of the time. No instant gratification, and little, if any, colour!
Peter’s great grandson was born in 2018, so he was too young to be fully aware of Peter’s death when it happened. Peter was of course immensely proud of the boy, as is the boy’s father. In my quest for images of Peter, I was handed a cell phone which had captured a ten second movie clip. The clip panned the family’s small Scarborough living room, following the small baby child as he attempted to crawl across it. Along the way, he is lifted up, turned over and sent back along his track. The lift came from Peter. The camera – or rather, cell phone – did not pause to record the lifter, and Peter’s image is only fixed for a moment, as the traveling momentum of the child is paused for redirection. Peter is basically a passing blur. I could find no other footage of my brother preserved among any of our relatives.
I feel photography has become as debased as it has become popular and accessible. I feel so probably because I have tried to be some kind of photographer in my training and profession. Digital photography blew away my studio and developmental chemistry skills, the hypo and magic I could weave, the little creativity I professed – and even, waiting for results, that feeling of suspense I could generate! I am on one side of the technological divide. Probably now seen as ‘the Dark Room side’.
Over in the light side, the great grandchildren will know no mystery of bromides, there may be no ‘back story’ to the images – certainly none written on the reverse of physical photographs! They will have their lives digitally recorded and frozen, right from the ultrasound scan Mom had in hospital (or even the twinkle in dad’s eye before this), through Mom’s labour pains, the inevitable birth, the first meal, and probably every subsequent meal, and the dog eating the leftovers.
There will be a choice of each pose – perhaps a half-dozen, micro-seconds apart, and maybe even more, selected from the phones of each person in the room at the time. This will continue throughout life, but be particularly plentiful by the actions of others during adolescence, until the self-image comes to dominate. This seems to be the primary function, and apparent purpose, of the financial behemoths we know today as social media, thrusting the latest meal, furry pet antic and self-image onto everyone who has the misfortune to be your captive, but socially media-distanced ‘friend’.
The ‘selfie’. What kind of social statement does this activity indicate? Are today’s values being reflected in the same way as those in the few images of my brother?
It is the subject for another discussion, for sure. Suffice it to say that historically speaking, I always found the self-portrait quite a self-conscious, socially awkward, and practically very challenging task to accomplish well. Thus my meager record speaks for itself!
As a footnote to this lamentable search for, and discovery of, moving images of my brother, I have to add that, in a troubling sociological development – to me, as a teacher anyway – Peter’s great grandson spoke his first word when I was visiting. It was ‘Alexa’.
It is easy to see why the enthusiasm of the moment – the new child – would be the focus of attention, but the tragedy is that it is the oldest, and not the youngest person in the room that will not only be the first to be missed, but also will probably leave the least visual record.
The dearth of Peter’s images I found very disturbing, especially as there was no real excuse for it. As his brother – and a quasi-photographer – I could, and should have filled that void, even if at that time I lived as far away as possible from him on this earth. I was not paying attention; I did not then see the technological divide cleaving generations apart.
However, now that the bromide-era is immersed in the digital age, there is no reason why better memory preservation cannot be commonplace. This is the upside to the inescapable fact that our lives - the good, the bad, the indelible moments and spontaneous reactions - are being digitally extended, and indefinitely.
Tell Your Story is a videographic service. I like to think of it as an opportunity to preserve an individual’s unique characteristics, one that generates an almost interactive experience for friends and family. In some circumstances, such as Jack Claridge’s, it can become a part of our cultural heritage. My first little musical appreciation movie of him is now part of New Zealand’s Turnbull Museum’s cultural collection.
In creating each story, I encourage every subject to saunter down their unique memory lane, to recall their life story as they remember and experienced it. Tell it first hand to avoid misinterpretation. Talk about the person you know best, and with absolute certainty - yourself!
I have recorded ‘last wishes’ - voice and presence to accompany a final written will – thereby leaving little doubt of intent or room for dispute! Who would challenge the command of grandma waving her finger on screen as she spelled out her desires!
There is real value in telling your story! For more information about Tell Your Story, download this pamphlet
or email Paul at TYSvideograph@gmail.com.