CNN Photos

Recalling vivid nightmares and earliest memories

In her earliest memory, Lottie Davies is about 2 ½ years old, running through a hospital hallway to see her mother and her newborn brother.

She remembers passing a playroom with a rocking horse in the corner, an attraction that would normally stop her, but she thinks, “I'll go back and play later.”

First memories are often “flashbulb memories,” vivid recollections of an event, Davies said.

"I found myself thinking about my first childhood memory and musing on its nature - the fact that it is kind of static, it's the memory of a single moment which I can almost look around in my mind's eye in a way," Davies said.

Davies re-created her first memory to start her photo series “Memories and Nightmares.” (It’s the third photo in this gallery.)

She then asked her friends to e-mail theirs so she could illustrate them as well.

"They are the very first thing that we can point to that references the beginning of our life story,” she said. “Before that, we exist, but we have no memory of that time or, indeed, ourselves."

She added nightmares to the project after a friend said her first memory was boring. Davies sees a connection between first memories and nightmares: Both are usually fragmented, we only experience them in an active way by retelling them, and they stick because they often have a shocking or traumatic element, she said.

It never occurred to her to illustrate happier dreams.

"More pleasant dreams just didn't have the appeal, the immediacy, the semi-mythological status, or the same intensity of memory to align them with early childhood memories," Davies said.

She spent about 18 months creating the photos, re-imagining the short descriptions sent to her.

"I didn't feel I needed to try to actually re-create the real story, so much as make an image which created the same feeling as I experienced on first reading it," she said.

Davies, who has auburn hair, visually represented her insertion into the memories and nightmares by using red-haired protagonists in the photographs.

When Davies sent image No. 8, “The Man Who Ran Away,” to the woman who shared that memory, the woman said it "looked completely different but felt the same."

And maybe those memories and nightmares are more about the internal sensations than the physical elements. Even the re-creation of her own first memory now supersedes the memory itself, Davies said.

- Lauren Russell, CNN