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Photographs Help Memory for Photography & Digital Arts Senior Alison Drummond

The words “photographic memory” have a different meaning for Alison Drummond ’19. Photographs are sometimes the only way she can help herself remember things that happened to her in the past.

Drummond has working memory deficit disorder. The impairment makes it difficult for the brain to hold new information in the short term, and prevents that information from being transferred into long-term memory.

“I don’t remember any of my birthdays,” said the Photography & Digital Arts major. “I only remember what people have told me, and I interpret what happened, essentially.”

Her senior thesis, titled A Piece of My Mind, tries to paint a picture of what living without memories is like.

TELLING HER STORY

For her work, Drummond inserted a photograph into a large white balloon, and had it filled with helium, replacing the balloon with a new one every three days.

“The balloons were clear, but had the stories of memories written on them,” said Drummond. The handwritten phrases on the balloons are of sweet remembrances, such as “I made sailboats from leaves by putting them in puddles in the rain,” and not-so-sweet ones, like “I got launched off a seesaw. I woke up on the ground.”

The giant balloon in her exhibit during the Senior Show in April stood chest-high from the ground, tied to a large rock. The rock was covered in photographs, all of which were from the memories written on the balloons. Drummond said the rock represents her mind, made up of faded, jumbled images.

“When the balloons were full, the writing was so pale it was almost invisible,” she explained. In each balloon was a vivid color photograph of an image representing each story, like a leaf in a puddle, or a blanket of snow. After three days, the balloon deflated, and the writing on it was more legible. At the same time, the image inside the balloon became harder to see. The story formed as the image faded.

“By the third day, the photo was removed from the balloon and discarded,” she said. “The image disappears, just like my memory. But now the story was easy to read on the deflated balloon.”

Each balloon with the story written on it was hung in one of 12 black picture frames on a wall, leaving only the story.

LOOKING AHEAD

“The project, even though it’s called A Piece of my Mind, it’s also about people in general who have this issue where they just have trouble remembering something and they are trying to grasp and hold onto that memory, and the struggle,” she said.

Her struggle began at a very young age. Drummond was diagnosed with epilepsy after having a seizure when she was just a year old. She also has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. When she was small, her parents gave her a camera for children that couldn’t easily be broken.

“I would just run around the house, trying to get all my energy out, photographing, making still lives, photographing people, animals, nature,” she said. “It didn’t register in my head until years later that what I was doing could be considered something that I could pursue,” she said.

Drummond, who will graduate in December, gets help with her studies by having someone take notes for her in a couple of classes.

“I have an easier time doing stuff when I work with my hands,” she said. “The act of actually working on something–I think that’s why photography and the act of artmaking has been a huge influence in my life.”

Published on August 5th, 2019