On Loss

Nostos Algos, an unappeased longing to return. The perception of nostalgia has evolved over many years from a treatable disease, common in soldiers caught in a war far from home, to a metaphysical condition experienced by all those who get caught in the wheels of progress.

For soldiers, the return home was seen as a cure for their delusions, their ‘loss of touch with the present’, but nostalgia is not tied to physical locations alone. It pertains to the passing of time, of sensations and experiences and elusive memories that accompany them.

As it unfolded across an increasingly modernized world, nostalgia became an abundant market commodity, as the ultimate of unfulfilled desires, repackaged and resold infinitely, the past purchased for the mere price of the present.

The memories kept inside photographs are often borrowed from elsewhere, other pictures, paintings and postcards. The early colour photographs taken from domestic cameras more often than not depict sunny skies because such cameras needed bright light to get a satisfactory exposure. Beyond the technical limitations, the similarities, the rituals that surround the family picture are a result of common emotional needs. Photographs affect our relationship with the present, but there is more to them than nostalgic ‘erroneous representations’. They account for experiences that make us human and that connect us to other humans.

The problem is that as photography tries to cast a net to trap memories, they slip through and escape anyway. So some pictures will be kept whilst others are willfully thrown away once the need to remember gets lost somewhere. A photograph can mean something one moment and the next moment something else entirely. Photographs are testament to an inevitably widening gap between ‘this’ and ‘that’, between ‘then’ and ‘now’, as the ground beneath our feet shifts continuously. This was here, yes, but it is not quite like that.

Photographs are both complicit in and resistant to the nuances of change, because we are. Remaining with the present requires us to keep a close watch.

Text and images by Becky Ayre

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