Lazy Luddite Log

21.3.06

Shadows & Echoes

Modern methods of recording images and sound have a peculiar effect on ones perceptions of time. I look at a photo from five decades ago and it seems as if the things depicted exist now.


A person in such photos - think Marilyn Monroe or James Dean or Humphry Bogart - can look vibrant and alive (the linked image is a painting but still...). You can imagine having a drink with them! And yet they are nothing but dust now.

I look at footage of a car driving along some village street. The car and houses are old but then old things exist in the present too. I know the scene was filmed decades ago but it looks like it may have been taken at any time since - it may even be a direct satellite telecast. Look in the background at the cloud formations - they are so like ones I saw only yesterday. But those clouds will have changed moments after they were filmed - those precise formations are lost forever.

I listen to recordings of vocalists from the past - a Hutchence or a Mercury or a Carpenter. A voice is like the living signature of someone - so totally personal and human. These singers all died a decade or more back and yet I sing along with them like they were here right now.

These recorded images and sounds make the recent past seem all the closer. But the past is the past and those times are as utterly gone as the ancient days of the Roman Empire. Looking at an eroded stone bust of Augustus Caesar only accentuates for me how distant from me his life and times are. They belong in dusty old history books. In contrast the photos or recordings from the last century and a half make me feel much more of a kinship with those times.

For me the invention of the camera and the phonograph marks a dividing line in history - everything following that time is in sharper focus while everything before that time fades into the distance. And so my sense of loss for the recent past is all the more powerful. Contemplating this makes me feel like some kind of exile in time.

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2 Comments:

  • I have posted a synthesis response on my blog...

    By Blogger David Golding, At 24 March, 2006  

  • Wow those are some interesting discussions on the topic from both Dave and (via his discussion) Andrew. I have nothing to add to those discussions but for these things that they reminded me of:

    Living History

    The term 'living history' refers to projects that simulate historic experiences with the intention of better understanding those past times. The Kon-Tiki voyage and Sovereign Hill are both instances of living history. These are another way of "travelling in time" over-and-above the much more passive looking at recorded information as proposed by Andrew.

    Layered Nostalgia

    I think Dave makes some reference to the way in which efforts to perceive the past change the past. Nostalgia makes new pasts from the old so we have to be wary of it as an accurate reflection of history.

    Nostalgia also layers and I think one example of this is the 'Grease Megamix'. This medley is from 1991 and is very much a product of its era (who remembers those awful 'Jive Bunny' mega-mixes?). But it mixes songs from the original 'Grease' movie from 1978. Some of that music (particularly the title track) is very late-70s and yet most of it was intended to emulate music from the time in which the story is set - 1959. So listening to the 'Grease Megamix' will have a different nostalgic effect depending on the age of the listener whether it reminds them of 1959 or 1978 or 1991!

    By Blogger Daniel, At 28 March, 2006  

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