Forgotten, Lost and Found Memories

(As seen in Louise Levergneux’s Studio Blog)

When I was young my parents divorced and a few years after their breakup I realized I had lost all memories of my early childhood. I don’t know if I had a problem remembering or if it was a response to the traumatic event. Since then, I have been on a quest to understand how memory works.

Contrary to popular belief, we don’t store memories. We reconstruct them, and this process is quite unreliable. With the help of photographs and family anecdotes, I feel I have recovered a lot of these memories, but how real are they?

I decided to create an artist’s book that would illustrate three types of memories: the ones we forget completely, the ones we don’t remember, and those we recover. I chose a tunnel book structure and used the three sides, one for each type of memory. The structure offered a story that could be read in any three ways. 

The process of forgetting and losing memories were placed on the side of the structure. I captured pictures of people lost in the night, running, walking and trying to find their way. The cold color tones add to the doubts of the frantic search. 

For the inside of the book, I photographed the tunnels along the freeway that linked Italy to France. It was constructed in the mountains or hills and the tunnels were long, extremely long. I am slightly claustrophobic so it made me nervous driving for hours from one tunnel to the next. Nonetheless, I used warm color tones to depict them since they lead to a happy memory recovery.

The depth of the tunnel structure represented the time it took to remember and the hurdles we have to go through in order to reconstruct our memories. 

I printed my photographs on a Japanese mulberry paper to convey a sense of nostalgia. The long fibers of this paper created a subtle movement. The images looked matte with a little sheen and it added a slight blurriness, which emphasized the idea of lost or old memories. 

The mix of abstract and figurative photographs taken at night was enhanced by the use of color tones that bind the images together as it expressed feelings of loss or recovery.

In the process, I found the science of memory fascinating. How we encode, store and retrieve information to make decisions is a complex issue. Some memories might help us, some will haunt us for the rest of our life. As for me, I am happy to have recreated my childhood memories even if I will never know if they are “new memories” of my past or if I’ve remembered them.