By Ingrid Sapona
Photographs, ugh…. Have you given much thought to them? I certainly
hadn’t until recently – and now the topic weighs heavy on my psyche. Hell, for
the camera-happy selfie generation, it should rank right up there with
religion. And yet, the wherefore and whys of photos don’t come up too often. I
think it’s time for a frank discussion about photos, so here goes.
I grew up in the Kodak days – you know, when you needed to load
film into a camera to take pictures. Actually, I could’ve called it the dark
room days, since that’s how photos were printed. Like many teens, I had a
camera and I found it interesting looking at the world through the little
viewfinder. (Oh how I miss viewfinders in cameras!)
The mysterious process of exposing the negative on special
paper and using chemicals to make it appear is, no doubt, part of what
fascinated folks when photography was invented. Indeed, the whole idea of capturing
an image is nothing short of magic. Over time, however, the mystery and magic
of the process receded as photos became commonplace. But, I’m sure the cachet
of photos increased when someone coined the adages: “a picture’s worth a
thousand words”, and “every picture tells a story”.
I think those two sayings were transformative for baby
boomers. Why bother trying to describe the sunset – just take a picture. So, we
took pictures of every major event – from weddings, to birthdays, to
graduations, to family get-togethers. And we made copies and sent them to
friends and relatives. We framed them and put them on our walls, desks, and
refrigerators. And of course, we took pictures of all our travels. If we were
really ambitious, we’d organize them in photo albums and scrap books. And we
showed them to others because – and here’s another adage that drives the photo
culture – seeing is believing!
Oh, and for the discerning photographers of the mid-20th
century (my father, for example), another popular photographic option was
colour slides. Who needs photo albums when you’ve got a slide projector that
holds hundreds of slides per tray? Watching slide shows of others’ vacations –
what better way to spend a Friday night? Maybe not – but if you’re of a certain
age, I’ll bet you had your share of such evenings!
But what happens when we run out of wall space to hang our
photos? Thank heaven for old shoeboxes, not to mention the corners of
bookshelves we relegate old albums to. In other words, most of them just gather
dust. And if we move, what do we do? Most of the time, we just move the boxes, albums,
slides, and projector to a new place.
And before anyone chimes in (I’m thinking of a couple of
cousins now) – yes, I realize I can have them scanned so that instead of having
a shoebox of photos, I’ll have them all in a digital format. In fact, I just
purchased a Groupon for a service that does that. But then I’ll have a couple
more CDs of photos. Guess what I’ll end up doing with them? I’ll add them to
the shoebox of other such CDs. (I just came across a box of CDs of photos that
I didn’t remember I had. I forgot that in the 90s my local film developer
always included a CD of the photos along with the prints.)
Problem is, CDs are going the way of the dinosaur too. Chances
are my next computer won’t even have a CD player, so then what? I know, those
same cousins are mumbling: cloud storage makes so much more sense… Or does it?
I’m sure that for many, the cloud’s going to become simply another place where
they’re out of sight and out of mind.
I get that photos are a keepsake – something to help you
remember the moment the photo was taken. Or you want to remember a person or
occasion. Indeed, I find it so comforting to see a picture of my Dad smiling,
or even of our old dog. And, every now and then when I am cleaning out my
storage locker, if I come upon a photo album I leaf through it for a trip down
But why is it we cling to hundreds of photos we rarely, if
ever look at? Sentimentality goes a long way to answering that, for sure. But
I’m betting there’s more than a soupçon of guilt there too. Is it me, or do you
feel it’s almost sacrilegious to get rid of old photos? I think it’s so hard
because the photos seem like our connection to something or someone – a
vacation, friends, and family members – and on some level, getting rid of the
photo feels like an act of disrespect, if not desecration. Crazy, right?
It’ll be interesting to see if the selfie generation feels
any kind of angst over all the photos they’ll have taken by the time they’re my
age. My guess is they won’t because they’re not using photos to memorialize
something – they’re using them just to show what they’re up to at that moment –
or at least until they post the next photo. (Whether they’re missing out on
experiencing the moment because they’re wrapped up in taking the photo is
another question altogether!)
What about you? What fate awaits your old photos? If you’ve
got any unique coping strategies – please share them!