Bag of Bones




Words and photos by Violet Cowdin


Lately, I’ve become obsessed with memory. The more I thought about my own fears of having a bad memory, or losing things I hold dear due to the progression of time, the more I began to realize how much this is reflected in the things that I value -- specifically photography. Photos have the ability to jog, bend, and many times invent memory. The more I thought about this, the more I was drawn to understand my own relations between memory and photography. I began to think of my most prevalent memories, the ones that I told people when sharing my past, or the ones that came to mind when I thought about my identity. I realized that my memories easily took the form of a narrative- a story which I told myself and others. As I sifted through and documented my significant memories, they all had one thing in common: something I couldn’t understand. One specific memory stood out to me which I felt as though encompassed this feeling of the unknown, this root which a memory requires. It was when I was around ten.


It was a sweaty summer day and my mom, sister and I were driving through the Missouri suburbs, on our way to who knows where. In my sister’s lap she held a crumpled brown paper lunch sack. I begged to see what was inside and finally (after much back and forth) she said that although she couldn’t show me, she was willing to tell me what was inside. She explained that when one reached a certain age, some of their bones stopped growing and were thus useless. These bones, also called “baby bones”, had to come out which lead to them being thrown up, much like an owl pellet sack. This, she said, was why she was being so territorial, because inside the brown paper bag were her baby bones. I was skeptical to say the least, yet I never saw inside the bag to confirm or deny my suspicions. I still don’t know what was there.


There is something which I can never answer or truly know about that moment, something which supplies a story to tell and a memory to be created. This story was the perfect example for me to understand why I remembered some things and couldn’t remember others. As I asked friends and family for their most prevalent memories -- stories from their childhood which influence the way they see now -- there was always the element of the unknown. Not knowing what something meant, not knowing what something was, not knowing how to interact with something, these are the things we create memories from. This is what I wanted to document, this “bag of bones” effect which relies on the unknown. We see photos as something which are concrete evidence, things that can validate narratives whether personal or historical. Yet photos, as we know, can’t truly do this. Photos can create those stories. We can see this by looking at a family photo of our own- we look at the photo and associate with that moment, remember what was going on and why, step into it and jog a narrative. When we look at a family photo that is not our own, we strangely can do the exact same thing. We create a narrative whether we want to or not, whether it’s our experience or not. Photos are not proof, they merely supply a new mystery for us to attempt to solve. In my visuals I wanted to show this invention within photographs, and I wanted to expose how our brains are constantly attempting to supply answers. Within this series I document an unidentified person continuously interacting with an unidentified object, allowing the viewer to fill in the missing piece and reflect upon their own process of memory-making. What do you fill in when you look at the image? What story do you tell yourself? What memory do you associate or supply? And how do you do this with every photograph you see?


Being both a film and photo student, Violet Cowdin is usually found with a camera in hand. When she’s not making you pause for the perfect shot, she spends her time using her movie pass to its fullest potential and trying to visit every ice cream shop in the tri-state area.

Follow her on Instagram.


Featured in Issue 01.

Violet Cowdin