Many of us use photography to document moments as memories, and in addition, as a way to tell our stories. But what if memories get altered, do they change our stories as well? According to a study in 2012 at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, memories get altered every time you recall them: as you don’t remember the original event, but the last memory of that event, alterations can occur. Relating this to photography, images will also change when left to the elements of time. Such is the research body of work of photographer Heather S Roberts. From Glasgow, Scotland, Heather investigated how Polaroids change overtime by leaving the instant pictures in different places over a period of time. In her work Fading Memories, the Polaroids were scanned once a month, creating a timeline from June to November 2020. 

Heather took Polaroids of her building a hearth, a fire pit at her family’s home. According to the photographer, hearths were crucial building blocks in uniting our ancestors around the fire to recall and share their memories and stories, even suggesting them as the starting points of civilizations. Through this project, Heather explored how the preservation and deterioration of memories will shape the stories we tell. Over 25 pictures were taken, where you can see the family’s garden, the piece of grass where the stones will be laid out, the digging, and the first fires being lit. Next, each Polaroid was put in a specific location – some taped to a fence, buried in the ground, put on a tree right next to the grass, between the hearth’s stones, etc. 




In the transition of the summer to the autumn months, Heather lets nature and its raw elements run their course on the Polaroids. Although one could of course approach this from a physics and chemistry point of view, and see how weather conditions and fire pits impact the physical integrity of the instant films, yet Heather’s project documents a rather poetic journey into how UV exposure, temperatures, fires, rain, wind, dirt, etc. affect the Polaroids. 



For instance, we observe that one of the immediate effects is UV exposure, leading to fainting images – one can only wonder whether memories can be overexposed as well? Is there something like recalling a memory too often? In addition, we see the gradual erosion of the image, but also the Polaroid’s integrity itself eroding in just a few months. Though we often associate memories with visual cues, memories are made of different aspects, including noises, scents, imagery, words, emotions, thoughts, etc. Heather’s project beautifully depicts this multileveled aspect of memories: even if the Polaroid is still intact, the image may disintegrate when continuously exposed to sunlight. And even the more robust iconic white Polaroid frames are not resistant to the elements either. 

Heather’s work on Fading Memories forces us to take a hard look at how we recall and preserve our own memories. The choice for Polaroid instant film is in itself a very peculiar one: very often, we know exactly the image that we’re seeing and what we’re about to capture on instant film, but all too often do the camera and film ultimately decide what image will be revealed and thus which information will be withheld. Again, one can draw this parallel to memories and suggest that even what we ‘capture’ as memories is biased, and though we live that exact moment ourselves, our testimonial of these moments is all too embedded in what we consciously and subconsciously choose to remember. 

Fading Memories reflects Heather’s affinity with breaking down social bonds and closely examining alienation within relationships using investigative work into memories through Polaroids. As a Fine Art photographer graduated from the Glasgow School of Art and with a degree from Pratt Institute in New York, today Heather has broadened her artistic works into metalwork and fabrication.