You Can’t Go Back

by | Mar 14, 2016 | Storytelling, The Missing Conversation | 4 comments

In responding to my post from last week, Simon Dunkley, on his own blog, makes an astute point about modeling the past: we can’t return to it. We can recreate the objects and to a certain degree even the settings, but we can never capture the true essence of them.

I wrote about my childhood memories of lying in bed and watching the switch engine work the siding next to the house. I can paint lovely word pictures of that time and with enough research, perhaps even render the location faithfully. What I can’t do is go back and relive those experiences. They are forever gone except as a memory, one that is likely marinated in nostalgia after a half century.

As Simon pointed out, there is more to our past experiences than just the setting and the railroad artifacts we’re so fixated on. There is also touch, smell and the interactions with people among countless other aspects we cannot recreate in miniature.

You can see from the two photos of North Morton Avenue, that things have changed dramatically. The opening photo dates from the late 1970s, while the second one was shot on March 14, 2016. Both were taken from approximately the same spot. As you can see, the mill, my grandmother’s house and the railroad itself have been gone for decades now. With only the 2016 image to go by, would you even know a railroad once existed here? Perhaps, if you knew the area well but it’s unlikely you would otherwise.

I never tried to model Centerville, Richmond or even the Pennsylvania itself because I always sensed that the work would not equal my memory of them and therefore be a disappointment and source of frustration. I’m grateful I never went down that rabbit hole but I came very, very close. Instead I focused on the visual attributes that would apply to any subject of my choosing. And, that has proven to be the wiser choice.