The Illusion of Truth: Three Photographers on Implicit Memory

Photographs often substitute for ‘real’ memories. Many of my long gone acquaintances are remembered through photographs of them and their times. I don’t remember what I was like when I was ten but I have photos of me at that age. When I look at them I see what my life was like eons ago. I get glimpses of memory.
Gene M., photographer, 2009

Appearing at Vista Studios Gallery 80808 in Columbia from August 19 to 24, “The Illusion of Truth: Three Photographers on Implicit Memory” features work by Eric Plaag, Marshall Hodge, and Tricia Hatfield.

Implicit memory is built on repeated past experiences that allow us to perform certain tasks without consciously thinking about them. Most of us might think of rote behaviors–driving to familiar destinations, tying our shoes, getting dressed–as examples of implicit memory, but this phenomenon is also present through sensory experience. One of the most studied examples of implicit memory, in fact, is the repetition of certain messages and their ability to create an “illusion-of-truth” effect. In other words, simply because we hear (or say) something repeatedly, we have a tendency to believe it, regardless of its objective truth value. Likewise, implicit memories can sometimes lead to the formation of odd associations, such as an aversion to certain foods because they were once ingested at the same time as an illness, or a deep dislike of a person or a song simply because they were present when something unpleasant occurred.

For this exhibit, Marshall, Tricia, and I explore the influence of implicit memories on the lives of our subjects, seeking out the illusory understanding of truth that has been constructed in each instance and thus reframing the meaning of experience.

Those of you who have seen my previous work know that I often explore deeply personal topics through classical themes. This time out, my work is divided into two parallel series–one on the evolution of artistic confidence (entitled Aletheia, the ancient Greek term for truth as the coming forth of a thing’s essence), the other on the nature of what romantic love should be (Eros, defined by Socrates as the wholeness achieved between man and woman through the desire to be creative in the face of beauty). By following the associative geography of my illusions of truth, I revisited my past to create new images that will serve as the framework for new associations and new understandings of both love and art and my relationship to each. Unlike some of my past work, however, which has incorporated deeply personal text into the artistic image, these two series offer only brief narrative glimpses of the past on separate text panels, strictly for the sake of context, thus allowing my new images to stand apart and for themselves, divorced of and reimagined from their past associations.

The opening reception for our exhibit will take place on Thursday, August 19, from 6:00 to 8:00pm. We will also hold a gallery talk on Monday, August 23, at 7:00pm, during which we will more extensively discuss our work and invite our guests to ask questions about the show. The gallery will also be open for additional hours during the exhibition to allow folks to visit and contemplate the work at their own pace.

Examples of my images (please note that these are digitally scanned approximations of the silver gelatin prints that will be displayed):


Aletheia, No. 1: Grand Illumination

“I’m working at a motel, one of my lifelong fantasies (I’m serious about that–don’t laugh). It’s given me the insight to start my second novel. Something about some crazy guy in a motel–wonder who that might be?…I’m also working on another one (obviously the first novel), and I’m pretty far through it. More on this later (I know you’re thrilled by it).”
–EP to JM, May 27, 1985


Eros, No. 3: Penance

“Whatever we say about her, I think she did one thing right–she knew that being friends with me would only be painful to both of us; we couldn’t have stayed ‘broken up’ if our lives depended upon it, because every time we spent time together after the break-up, we ended up fooling around. So, she did the smart thing; she severed ALL ties. She is probably a much stronger person for having done so.”
–EP to DB, February 28, 1996


Aletheia, No. 3: Surrender, Dorothy

“Is artistic starvation and general malaise what I have to look forward to when I leave the world of insurance to pursue my ‘calling’? Is this all there is? Some artsy chairs and a mural and the general sense that nothing real is being accomplished? No, I think this period passes. You mention equal shares of failure, success, and fear, and I think you are right. We are taught not to pursue or succeed at artistic endeavors (“It’s great that you like latch hook, Bobby, but you need to work for a living!”), only to enjoy them as “avocations.” But what if we succeed? Why, then, we have broken the rules and done something not possible. And having broken the rules–even though our artistic living is legal and stimulating and financially rewarding and makes us good, balanced individuals and makes the world think and generally enhances the quality of life on this planet–well, it is seen as somehow suspect and dirty and immoral (or at least amoral) and cheap and the perfect example of what communism will do, or some such other nonsense to point out why creative endeavor is only folly and so much waste of paper, paint, clay, and canvas.”
–EP to JM, July 11, 1993


Eros, No. 8: Ballad of the Sad Cafe

“A very dear friend recently urged me to read Carson McCullers’s ‘The Ballad of the Sad Cafe.’ There’s a moment when the narrator writes, ‘And the curt truth is that, in a deep secret way, the state of being beloved is intolerable to many. The beloved fears and hates the lover, and with the best of reasons. For the lover is forever trying to strip bare his beloved. The lover craves any possible relation with the beloved, even if this experience can cause him only pain.’ We quarreled over this part, my friend and I, as I tried to point out to her that while it can be this way between two people, it does not have to be. She eventually agreed, although she pointed out that this description of love is only true for oneself when one is the beloved. Her rejoinder saddens me and makes me wonder if the lover and the beloved can ever find peace….After all, as long as the beloved maintains such a view, anything the lover does is by definition a sin in the beloved’s eyes, whether the lover remains attentive, attempts to be respectfully distant, or becomes altogether indifferent.”
–EP to IM, April 25, 2008


Aletheia, No. 5: Telesterion

‘While I understand your disdain for recklessness, I also hope you don’t ever confuse that recklessness with the calculated risk-taking that’s necessary for us to accomplish anything truly great with our lives. If your efforts in Winnsboro are any indication, I suspect you won’t. But as someone who shares with you the flaw of taking on too many things and always being pressed to get them done, I urge you NOT to stop being that way. The curiosity and confidence and courage that inform that headstrong desire to do so much are our lifeblood. A long time ago, I let someone break my confidence, and I played it safe for about ten years. It was a terrible mistake, and it took me a long time to make things right. If I can impart any wisdom, I’d ask you to always live by the mantra that’s now engraved on the back of my watch: ‘Be brave. Jump.’ Life is way too short to do otherwise.”
–EP to MP, November 9, 2004

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(All images and text are ©Eric Plaag, 1985-2010 and may not be reproduced under any circumstances or in any venue or medium without written authorization from Eric Plaag.)

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~ by ericplaag on May 23, 2010.

2 Responses to “The Illusion of Truth: Three Photographers on Implicit Memory”

  1. I am in awe.
    The images and the words move me.
    Congratulations! IPOY!!!

  2. What SHE said :o)
    U gneaux who

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