It's hard to say whether photographic memory actually exists. So far, only one really conclusive test has ever been done to prove that there are certain individuals who can look at a massive quantity of information and remember it verbatim even years later. But there are plenty of people who have claimed to possess eidetic memory (that's the official term). Here are 10 of them.
1. NIKOLA TESLA
According to Nikola Tesla himself, photographic memory was just one of his brain quirks. He said he had no problem memorizing entire books, but he also experienced random, blinding flashes of light that were sometimes accompanied by hallucinations. Tesla had detailed flashbacks to earlier parts of his life and could visualize his inventions in astonishing, complicated detail before he even started tinkering with making them come to life.
2. TEDDY ROOSEVELT
Teddy Roosevelt could recite entire newspaper pages—not just articles—as if they were sitting in front of him. He was also a speed reader and is reported to have read two or three books a day.
3. KIM PEEK
Kim Peek was the real-life Rain Man; he was the person Dustin Hoffman's character was based on in the Oscar-winning 1988 movie. Peek, who died in 2009, was said to have memorized every word of every book he had ever read, estimated at around 9000. It took him up to just 12 seconds to read one page, and each eye could read a page independently.
"Kim's story tells us that the human brain is far more flexible than we had thought," psychiatrist Darold Treffert told The Observer in 2005. "Like many other savants, he has suffered disability in one area of his brain, but has compensated by acquiring remarkable new abilities in other areas. This shows we all have considerable hidden intellectual potential."
4. ABBIE HOFFMAN
In his 1968 book Revolution for the Hell of It, activist Abbie Hoffman claimed that he was able to remember things in great detail after merely a glance.
5. JERRY LUCAS
Jerry Lucas was an amazing basketball player whose career lasted from 1962 to 1974, and in 1996 was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History. But it's his impressive memory that's paying the bills these days. Lucas has written dozens of books on memory, has developed a memory-retention system, and travels the country giving lectures on the subject. (Memorized lectures, we're sure.)
6. GUILLERMO DEL TORO
7. FERDINAND MARCOS
The former president of the Philippines was said to have a photographic memory, which would have come in handy when cataloging his wife Imelda's shoes.
8. SERGEI RACHMANINOFF
The composer may have had a type of photographic memory that helped him memorize sheet music with astonishing speed. This was aided by his extraordinary ear for music. Russian composer Alexander Siloti would give him complicated and demanding works to learn and Rachmaninoff (also spelled Rachmaninov) would have them completely memorized to perfection a day or two later.
9. MR. T
Yes, that Mr. T. The man who was born Laurence Tureaud says that he didn't need to study in school because of his "photographic memory." "Most of the time I stared out the windows, just daydreaming," he once said.
No, not the Queen of England—just Elizabeth, a Harvard student who passed a series of tests that convinced even skeptics that eidetic memory existed in 1970. She was studied by scientist Charles Stromeyer III, who published the results of his findings in Nature, then went on to marry Elizabeth (who was never tested again). But in the decades since, many have questioned the results of Stromeyer's study.