The Burden of Memory

The Blue Earth Alliance alerted me a couple of days ago, through their blog post, to this video presentation of John Trotter’s project “The Burden of Memory” put together by the The Dart Center at the University of Washington. This is a remarkable project and presentation that brought me close to tears. Their post says it best:

A few days ago, the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma published a video featuring an interview with John regarding a violent attack he suffered in 1997 and the aftermath. This interview details part of the work on a personal project he is conducting, The Burden of Memory. It is a deeply personal interview, which records the events surrounding the event, his ongoing recovery, and his reflections on the experience in conducting this very intimate photographic work.

The clothes that John Trotter was wearing at the time of his attack. (screen grab from Dart Center video, John Trotter photograph)
The video and pictures are incredibly powerful, I urge you to take some time and watch it (about 15 minutes) when you get the chance. My words couldn’t come close to doing justice to Trotter’s words. He has a lot of important conclusions about pictures and photographing that are really enlightening, especially given his position as ‘victim’ and his revelations about what it means for us to photograph trauma and difficult situations. For that reason, I think it is important that all photojournalists, at minimum, watch this. For example, here is just one thing that struck me while watching that I pull-quoted out, this one about life (there are many more):

We’re so used to telling other peoples stories. We’re naturally good at collecting details.
I’d been living my life, then this huge thing happened.
And I didn’t really have enough memory of the event that I could make sense of why my life had changed so much.

At the very end he explains the title of his project, quoting John Berger: “The camera relieves us of the burden of memory”
The film Trotter was shooting when he was attacked. He says in the interview he thought, when he saw one of the pictures was published, 'I almost died for this?' (Screengrab from Dart Center video, photo by John Trotter)
This reminds of a quote from Ziyah Gafic that I saw in some ‘war photography interviewproject’ (?) which for the life of me (well, literally the last hour I’ve been searching) I cannot find. I’m sure I’ll remember some names or find a link soon after I post so I will update at some point with the link. He was talking about how he takes pictures of things that he doesn’t want to remember. A paradox, but a very intriguing one at the heart of what we do.

As it turns out, the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma is located across the hall from the newspaper that M. Scott and I used to work at. We actually met there… but that’s another story. The Dart Center is from everything I’ve seen an amazing organization, and it is terrific to see them doing a video presentation like this, and of this quality. I will be checking in with them much more often I am sure.

One Response to “The Burden of Memory”

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