Wednesday, 7 January 2009


I feel overwhelmed by nostalgia at the moment. We watched an old home video found in my grandparents' flat (transferred from 8mm film to video to dvd) - it has some incredible silent shots of my mother learning to walk, the christening of her cousin who was later murdered, her family leaving the idyllic heat of South Africa to live in bleak England.

I watched them while feeling the presence of a loss that was not my own. It wasn't so much nostalgia I guess, more empathy - my grandparents had to leave family behind & weren't able to see their children growing up with their cousins as they might have done otherwise. There is also a sense of real loss with this film, as those who might remember these moments when they were really captured are no longer alive, or suffer from dementia. Will these films lose their value when no one remembers the people who feature in them? Or do they still have value because they depict something real, and show relationships and events that have a place in the context of a family, our family? I have this feeling of being stretched out into the past and future by these pieces of memories that link me to people I never knew and haven't met (or given birth to?!) yet...

We later watched our own home videos of me and my sister, which showed up how much more there was that we had forgotten about our past - faces that my sister used to make or expressions that we used to use. Is it important to document all these tiny details and moments? Or should we let these mannerisms and snippets of conversation escape, and not waste time in the present savouring things that have gone? Should I be trying to capture more with my camera? Or come out from behind the camera and experience what I may later forget? Are these moments more precious as less people remember them? Or do they have value in merely being experienced? Do experiences even have any value at all if they will one day be forgotten?

I think it is Adeline Yen Mah who describes her father's Alzheimer's as his way of leaving this world in the same way that he came into it. His memory deteriorates along a time line - first he forgets her, then his wife, then starts referring to people he knew as a boy. She writes that he died at the moment when he forgot his own birth, his mind as clean and blank as when he entered the world.

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