Photographic Memory: A List

A couple of years ago, Daylight put out a compilation of essays, each one dedicated to a specific photograph that was never taken. Sixty-two essays submitted by sixty-two photographers, each one reminiscing on a single moment that got away, an impalpable light that was too exceptional to be captured in one frame. Of all the essays, only one has left an impression on me. Not to say that the others were not fascinating or interesting, as each scenario conveyed was always vivid, well written, and occasionally touching. But the one written by Kelli Connell has left its impression, just like a photograph, only hers are words; illusions described as liminal and fleeting seconds, those that only a photographer would remember; instants that have remained flickering in the ether.

What strikes me about her contribution is that it is a not a single story, but many. It is not drawn out with a description of a rural house, a bar, or a city street, and there is no dialogue repeated for the reader to get a sense of the minutes leading up to the image. It is simply a list.

Christine smiling, face up, eyes closed, soaking up the sun

White sheet hovering, falling on bed

Softball girls

Light Moving along the bottom of the pool

Perhaps this list was compiled slowly and methodically as Connell conjured up the times when her camera was not in reach. But I like the think that this roster of eighteen seconds already existed in the back of her mind. There was no hesitation in recalling that floating linen or skin darkening under a summer sky. Just because these moments were never traced does not make them photographs not taken. As light is a carnal medium (so says Barthes), so is our memory. It has an appetite to retain the ineffable. Perhaps these are the images that get sweeter with time. They manifest as silkworms and reverberate as butterflies, always more beautiful than they were in the beginning and always fluttering with perfection.