Photographs and Memory

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I have been all over the world. I have been in front of the most awe-inspiring and spirit-elevating views. As a Norwegian I have always enjoyed the climate in the Caribbean, but travelling in Scandinavia is just as fun.

Everywhere I go I’ve willed myself to take in the views with everything that I have, with every cell and nerve, as if I by intent could make a particular place a part of me.Don’t ever forget this, I tell myself. Take a good long look. Bring it home.

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Back home, some weeks later, I remember almost nothing about it. There is knowledge — that was amazing — but not ownership.

And yet, I still remember specific turns that I made 20 years ago. I still remember skiing with my girlfriend in Trysil in 1987. I still remember the consistency of snow in Hemsedal with friends in 1997. But I don’t remember, exactly, what I saw as I stood looking at the view of the town of Aalesund from the view point Aksla. SONY DSC

The reason is simple, I think — action lays down stronger impressions in our memory than passivity. Watching isn’t as powerful as doing. Viewing, no matter how much you will yourself, isn’t an act. It’s just being.

Maybe this isn’t important. One of the biggest reasons we take photographs is memory insurance, after all. But I want my memories engaged with the world. I don’t want to wait until my life flashes before my eyes to revisit all these trips of a lifetime.

So, now I’m doing something different. Instead of trying to force myself to absorb a scene, I try to become an actor in it — I take in the view as I’m skinning to it, I lift my eyes from the snow to take in the sea of clouds as I’m dropping in, I break bread with a friend while sitting on a rock taking it all in.

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Afterwards it’s easier to do my storytelling.

It seems to be working. But just in case, I take pictures, too.

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If you ever visit Scandinavia, try to be a part of the culture, the scenery and the people. It will for certain bring forward memories for life. And your pictures will just be photographs and memory insurance.

Text and photos: Tor Kjolberg