On being … photographed

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 memory lane.

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!

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona


Blogger Sandy Kemsley said...

If you pick a cloud account that is compatible with the screensaver settings on your AppleTV, you can set a group of pictures to be your screensaver. I have a "favourites" album on Flickr that I keep adding photos to, and it shows up on our AppleTV when we pause a program too long. Same on your computer with either a local or cloud photo account. Nice way to see photos that you haven't thought of for a while.

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