1. Sheila Turner Seed takes a photo. Photographer unknown. New York, c. 1969 | Courtesy of Hot Docs

A Photographic Memory Review: Memories Are Made of This

Hot Docs 2024

4 mins read

A Photographic Memory
(USA, 87 min.)
Dir. Rachel Elizabeth Seed
Programme: Persister


Long ago . . . it must be . . .
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you. —Paul Simon, Bookends


Rachel Seed doesn’t have many memories of her mother, who died when she was only a year and a half. That’s put her on a life-long quest to find out more about the woman who birthed her only to die so young, at the age of 42. Luckily for Rachel Seed, her mother left plenty of evidence of who she was and what she had accomplished in her life.

Sheila Turner-Seed was a journalist and photographer who created essays for the educational publisher Scholastic Books in the Sixties and Seventies. For her biggest artistic project, she collaborated with the prestigious International Center of Photography (ICP) to create “Images of Man,” an audio-visual series of profiles of some of the most iconic photographers of all time: Cornell Capa, Bruce Davidson, Lisette Model, Gordon Parks, W. Eugene Smith and perhaps above all, Henri Cartier-Bresson. It’s essential documentation of key visual artists revealing far more of themselves than they would usually do thanks to Sheila’s probing interview style. Martine Franck, herself a legendary photographer and Cartier-Bresson’s wife, told Rachel Seed that her mother’s interview was the finest one ever given by her husband.

For Rachel Seed, the archive of “Images of Man” not only offered documentation of her mother’s work. Through the vast amount of audio and photography of the sessions, she got to hear and understand much more of the force and style of Sheila Turner-Seed. In turn, she has been able to harness her creativity and the archive to make a film that evokes her mother, A Photographic Memory.

Sheila Turner had grown up as a well-educated Jewish woman in post-war Chicago, presumably with conventional dreams of marriage and motherhood. But she also aspired to write and become independent—at least for a time—just when the Sixties allowed for a wave of feminist thinking to grow in America. She became a journalist when that calling was still difficult for a woman to achieve and went on to accompany some of her written work with photographs, unusual for the time. Sheila Turner went to London, where she met photographer Brian Seed; they went on to marry, have Rachel, and come to America. Sadly, hers was a life cut short, but her daughter has done an extraordinary job of bringing her memory back.

A Photographic Memory is an intimate film, replete with memories of a woman who was an intrepid journalist, capable documentary photographer and fine essayist. She was in the midst of balancing those qualities with being a mother and wife when she passed away. Rachel Seed has succeeded admirably in giving her life and work a proper tribute in this fine documentary.

A Photographic Memory screened at Hot Docs 2024.

Marc Glassman is the editor of POV Magazine and contributes film reviews to Classical FM. He is an adjunct professor at Toronto Metropolitan University and is the treasurer of the Toronto Film Critics Association.

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