On Memory in Architecture

December 03, 2009  •  Leave a Comment

Legacies in Stone Limited Edition Boxed Set

After several weeks and an excellent Thanksgiving break on the west coast with family and friends, I have finished putting my Legacies in Stone – Polychrome Series I archival prints onto my Etsy shop pages.  The series consists of two parts: 18 limited edition prints and 12 unnumbered “Vignettes.”  They mostly depict European architecture, dating from the fifth century BCE up until the late 1800s.  I am drawn to pretty much anything that has a story to it, and that most often means things that are old.  I’m not sure why that is.  Perhaps, it is because, as a friend once put it, I was born eighty years old.  That would now make me over 130 years old -  but who’s counting?

If you happen to live in the vicinity of the University of Notre Dame, you will be able to see an exhibit of the limited edition at the Bond Gallery in the School of Architecture from April 5 – 16.

As I mentioned earlier, I was recently on the west coast.  Although I was armed with my camera, I took very few photographs.  This often happens when I am with family or in familiar surroundings.  I think I am so absorbed with being part of an unfolding story that I don’t want to stand back and dissociate myself from the events.  I cannot easily switch between being an observer and being observed.  That probably has something to do with my attraction to architectural subjects.  But why is it that I am less attracted to more modern architecture, I wonder?

Having worked in architectural design for a number of years, I often photographed buildings.  As I’ve written elsewhere, I have come to realize I am not motivated by the need to build.  Rather, I am fascinated by the ability of architecture to evoke memories.  That’s not remarkable.  I think many people are.  What I find uncanny, however, is that buildings seem not only to evoke memories, but also to retain them.  That is, (cue the eerie organ music) I think they somehow absorb the energy of the events and people that passed through them.  Why would I make such a daft statement?  Well, partly as a mind game, but partly because it may explain why a building or ruin can evoke thoughts about its former inhabitants, even though they are separated from the observer by great spans of time and distance.

Perhaps that’s all nonsense, but if I allow myself to believe it, it explains why newer buildings hold less interest for me.  New buildings have not absorbed enough memory.  OK, maybe it’s simply because the buildings we use today are so familiar.  We know what they are used for and very few unusual events take place within their walls.  Older buildings, especially ancient ruins, have an air of mystery about them.  We cannot help but project our minds into the past and conjure up a foggy image of what might have been.  Maybe it’s all in our imaginations.  I prefer to think of it as the memory of the past, written into the stone, that is speaking, trying to tell me its story.  That is what I tried to capture in my photographic series, Leg Chair acies in Stone.

Perhaps in another 130 years, I’ll discover the memories being etched into the architecture of today.

With good cheer,

Mark



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