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When I need the title of a novel someone recommended, I just scroll back to the day we were at the bookstore together.Looking through my photo stream, there is a caption about Thomas Jefferson smuggling seeds from Italy, which I want to research; a picture of a tree I want to identify, which I need to send to my father; the nutritional label from a seasoning that I want to re-create; and a man with a jungle of electrical cords in the coffee shop, whose picture I took because I wanted to write something about how our wireless lives are actually full of wires.Instructing students to zoom in reversed the impairment effect, improving the memories of the photographers over those of the observers.
And the very act of taking a photograph, now so common, affects how we remember an event.
A study by Linda Henkel, which appeared in last year, tried to measure the effect of photography on memory.
I can’t remember exactly when I stopped carrying a notebook.
Sometime in the past year, I gave up writing hurried descriptions of people on the subway, copying the names of artists from museum walls and the titles of books in stores, and scribbling down bits of phrases overheard at restaurants and cafés.
Photographs that may deaden the prose of a fiction writer might enliven the work of an essayist; the same photographs that enable the precision of the journalist might inspire the whimsy of a poet.
Digital photography, endless and inexpensive, has made us all into archivists.
When my own albums fail me, I go down the rabbit hole of Google image search.
James Wood, in “How Fiction Works,” writes that photographs can deaden prose.
That is why I have found myself so willing to put down my notebooks and rely fully on my photo stream.
My photographs are a more useful first draft than my attempted prose was, a richer archive than the pages of my binders.