Adam Burton Photography


Photographic Memories

22nd January, 2019

I love looking at my photographs.  I don’t do it enough, but when I have reason to look back over my portfolio, I can become completely lost in the pictures.  That may sound like a pretty arrogant statement to start an article, but bear with me.

There is something very special to be gained from revisiting your own pictures, as opposed to looking at other peoples, and that is memories.  As photographers we are so lucky; each and every picture in our portfolios has an amazing power to reconnect a memory. 

A couple of days ago I discovered a picture from a beautiful sunrise at Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland, captured two years before.  At the time of capture I was so excited when the image popped up on my camera screen, but after returning home I promptly forgot all about the picture.  And after a while, I had forgotten all about the moment.  That amazing morning became a vague memory, and all too soon had faded completely.

Until a couple of days ago, that is. While looking through my RAW files, I stumbled across this picture and it immediately released a flood of memories.  I was leading a workshop at the time, and was encouraging my clients to set their cameras up and be ready to shoot as the dawn sky looked promising.  When the sky turned pink I was so excited I simply had to take my camera out and take a very quick shot before returning to help my clients.  

I remember my first shot being blurry, as somebody had accidentally knocked my tripod leg.  I remember how anxious I felt while waiting for the next picture to pop up on the screen; had I captured the moment as I really needed to get back to my role as a tutor?  Then, I recall that warm feeling of happiness and satisfaction that always accompanies the moment you know you have got the shot.

I remember the excitement among the group at having witnessed and photographed this little moment of magic.  I remember the waves washing against the shore, the fresh wind of the North East coast on this chilly March morning, the lights turning off at the castle and the relief that we were at exactly the right location to make the most of these conditions.  I remember the eagerness among the group to head back to the hotel for breakfast, content with the knowledge that they had all photographed the defining moment.

This is one of the reasons that I love photography so much.  In our photographs we capture little bundles of memories to cherish forever.  Of course, it’s no secret that photographs capture memories; people have been photographing special moments since cameras were invented.  But as landscape photographers, we also capture the little every day moments we experience while on location, moments that anybody else may forget about all too soon.

My portfolio is like an enormous filing cabinet of memories; open any drawer and loads of memories come flying out.  It really doesn’t matter the quality of the picture or weather conditions or location, just a brief glance at a photo and I could be standing there again. I feel totally transported back to that place and time, and can remember how I was feeling, who I was with, the weather, basically everything!  As my portfolio has grown over the years I wonder if many of these memories will fade, but so far so good.  I may have captured many thousands of images over the years but choose any single picture from my portfolio and I can vividly remember all the little details surrounding that moment.  

I’m sure I’m not alone in this.  Our photographs have an incredible ability to allow us to tap into these memories of everyday moments that would otherwise be completely forgotten.  The sad thing about this is, as photographers we tend to be critical of our past work and spend most of our time avoiding our back catalogues so we aren’t reminded of compositional errors or questionable processing decisions made before we knew what we were doing.  I know many people who don’t want to be reminded of their early pictures and others who choose to delete old pictures as their skills improve.

Maybe I like to reminisce a bit too much, but I do think that while its great to keep moving forward with our individual photography journeys, you may be surprised at how fulfilling it can be to occasionally look back.

Article originally published in Landscape Photography Magazine, 2017

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