While a nation is a community of individuals united by a collective memory of the past, the European Union is a community of nations built on collective forgetting. Countries joining the Union over the past two decades have traded their difficult memories of past rivalries, wars and genocides for peace and prosperity, but now the boom times are over the past is re-emerging.
Inspired by Paul Graham's influential 1993 photobook New Europe, in 2012 Lewis Bush travelled through ten countries during the height of the Eurozone crisis. "The Memory of History" explores the use and abuse of the past in the context of recession. At the same time, it sets out to explore and question historicist conceptions of time as forward moving and of history as narrative which underpin the ideas of continuous progress and relentless economic growth which contributed to the crisis in the first place.
Bush says, "We tend to see the past as something which is distant and unimportant, but our memories of history continue to shape our behavior in the present in ways which can be positive and negative. We forget the past at our peril, but remembering it can be just as fraught with difficulty."
In some ways, the series offers a coda or conclusion to Graham's work from two decades ago, which asked what happens when Europe's difficult past is forgotten. In "The Memory of History" we can see the answer: the past returns, sometimes in unexpected and even dangerous ways.
"The Memory of History" consists of a box of fifty-six prints, and twelve text chapters on divergent but related subjects from synchronicity to nationalism, the meaning of images to the nature of chance. Images and text are designed to be mixed freely, resulting in a unique viewing experience every time the box is opened. As new connections form between the images, we are reminded of how our memories of the past reconstitute themselves differently each time we return to them.
Editor's Note: An exhibition featuring twenty of these photographs will be shown at the Europe House in London from September 17th to September 26th, 2014.