Some experiences are forgotten as fast as they happen, while others are remembered for a lifetime. A memory may seem identical whether you recalled it yesterday or 10 years ago, but it will shift each time it comes to mind. It may be hard to imagine that our memories – those of special occasions and loving moments, or of deeply-felt pain and distress – might be inaccurate. But in order to connect our past with our present, it is necessary that our memories be susceptible to change. When memories are recalled, new information or feelings can be inserted and integrated into previous experiences. We are not aware of this process, but the memories and their associated emotions that form our personal narratives are in constant flux.
The process by which memories become long lasting and more resistant to change is known as memory consolidation. Memories of our experiences are consolidated when genes are activated to change the structural connections between neurons within brain structures that support autobiographical and associated emotional memories, which serves as the substrate for memory storage. However, when a memory is recalled in great detail, a new round of gene activation causes neuronal connections, and the memory, to become unstable. The process of making consolidated memories changeable is called reconsolidation, a process that might leave a memory largely intact or could lead to significant change.
Imagine that, while on a long drive, a song comes on that you haven’t heard in years. All of a sudden, memories and the associated emotions come rushing back. Maybe the song makes you nostalgic, sad, anxious, or happy. Let’s say the song brings a deep sadness because it was on in the background at a café where a person you once dated admitted to loving someone else. The song corresponds with the shock, sadness, fear, and a host of other emotions you felt at the time. Years later, the song is playing, you’re emotionally overwhelmed, and you cry. Perhaps the song has a deeper unconscious meaning than the breakup itself – for example, maybe it’s a reminder that you feel like you will always be alone, which creates a great deal of anxiety that overwhelms you.
It’s possible to disrupt the association between the song and sadness in various ways, such as in therapy. The song could be used to cue memory and emotions, making the memory unstable and open to change. During the window of instability, the unconscious association between the song and the fear of being alone may be consciously understood and you can have a new emotional response instead of fear. Over time, a new understanding about the anxiety surrounding being alone can be formed, and the song may no longer make you feel sad because the memory has changed. At the heart of reconsolidation is the ability to update new information into memories of past events and in this way reconsolidation functions to incorporate the present with the past.
In this series of images, I aim to connect past and present through the reconciliation of disparate identities I’ve formed between two vastly different cultures on opposite sides of the United States (more specifically, California and Cambridge, MA). These images are of emotionally salient and important time points in my life. My
photographs expose the beauty within the darker aspects of human existence: isolation, disconnection, loneliness, longing, and I do not shy away from the hidden corners of life. I invite the viewer to feel the profound anxiety of our lone existence. Using the circular frame to telescope back in time I conflate distinct representations of my identity. Some images are of solitary figures, in the shadows, and are difficult to identify. Other images are superimposed upon one another, new images on older ones. I reflect upon how these hybrid photographs can represent the unstable nature of memory and the narratives they contrive.