Permanent Tourist

The personal website of Mark Howells-Mead

Visual memories

I’ve never really been one for old photos in general terms but as time goes on, and I slowly get older and creakier, photos from my own archive are starting to be much more important to me. Even within the past ten years – since I’ve been using digital cameras – there are photos which remind me of events which would otherwise have slipped my mind.

Photos are a great way for me to battle against my over-filled brain; I can’t seem to get the hang of keeping my interest reined in and so I usually have a thousand things on my mind at once. (I wrote about this problem a couple of years ago, if you’re interested.) The act of taking photos has, at various stages, provided me with a way of retaining memories which would otherwise have been lost from my scatter brain many years ago.

In the Nineties, photos of pigeons and tourists in Trafalgar Square weren’t really that relevant, but taking the photos was a way of killing time. Now, they are twenty-year-old reminders of the days when I would spend afternoons wandering around the streets of London. A snapshot taken holding a camera out of a car window reminds me of the time I took my Mini to London, stayed overnight with a friend, then joined hundreds of others in convoy to drive the slightly unreliable and more more than slightly bouncy car down to the south coast.

I am blessed with a photographic memory. Not in the classic way – remembering everything with total clarity – but that I almost never forget where one of my photos was taken. That helps me, in turn, to get a mental jog to remember other things about the event; despite the fact that it was nearly twenty years ago.

For less obsessive people, this memory can often take more of a jolt to get things working and such was the case when Stephen Clarke’s grandchildren came across a number of old photos in his home. There were many there which could be identified, but others which Stephen himself couldn’t place. To give him due credit, the photos appear to be forty, fifty, or even more years old and many of them are passing snapshots of views with unidentifiable landmarks.

The internet came to the rescue: the family set up the Grandpa’s Photos website and placed 100 of the better and unidentified photos online, so that visitors could contribute with information about those which they recognized. Amongst them are a few from Switzerland and, astoundingly, from the lake shore just a couple of hundred metres from my home. I gave information about those I recognized, as have many others: helping the Clarke family to better “remember” where Grandpa Stephen went on his travels.

Since setting up the site, the story has continued even further, to the extent that grandson David is currently travelling to re-photograph all of the original scenes with a modern setting; for example, the photographs from around Lake Thun, re-created pretty accurately.

One day, my photographs will tell the story of my life: one more reason to love the process of documenting the beautiful and fascinating sights I see as I pass through my life.

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