Blended memory: distributed remembering and forgetting through digital photography
Fawns, Timothy James
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This thesis explores practices and experiences of using photography to support remembering. While the increasing use of photography is well documented, we have limited theoretical understanding of how we approach the taking, organising, and sharing of personal images in relation to memory, and of the opportunities and risks that are created through technological change. Two studies were conducted in which a total of 21 participants were interviewed in front of a sample of their photographs. Study 1 explored photography and remembering around a single, specific event: a wedding. Study 2 explored longer-term patterns of photographic and remembering activity across a range of contexts and events. The analysis showed that the ways that participants engaged with other people and technologies were significant in determining the kinds of photographs that were produced, and the engagement with those photos. Photographic practices were also heavily influenced by the situations in which they were performed and the beliefs and preferences of individuals. The existence of photographs could lead to thinking about particular aspects of the past, but the taking of photographs also altered the experience of what was being photographed. This could be seen as disruptive, depending on the participant’s beliefs about whether photography was a legitimate part of experience. When taking photos, participants pursued a mix of aesthetics, objectivity, and personal meaning, and perceptions of these qualities could influence the way that photographs were used in cueing recall. However, while most participants had produced large collections of photographs, there had been limited engagement with these and taking or having photographs could be more important than looking at them. The thesis concludes that there is value in redefining memory as a kind of activity that emerges through the performance of remembering and that is dependent on the tools used to support it and the situations in which it is performed. From this perspective, photography and autobiographical remembering are parts of the same wider activity, an inseparable blend of internal and external processes. As such, attempts to support our memories should consider both the features of technology and the experience of using it, as well as the ways that we work with tools and people when remembering.