Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Photo Albatross

Victory! I declare victory in the photo organization campaign. Well, partial victory. Or victory of a sort. Or one tiny step forward....

I last organized photos in 1999. I used to sort them into albums when Sophie took naps during visits to my in-laws. I’d bring the envelopes of photos, paper to make labels and headings, and empty albums. By the end of the visit, I’d be up-to-date. When naps ended, so did my available time.  Now the album gap is sixteen years plus.

Beginning in 2011, I’d print out photos from my digital camera to send to my mother, writing elaborate captions on the back. She didn’t have a computer, and that way I’d keep her current on our doings. When she died, I inherited six years of already-captioned photos. What could be easier to organize?
Except that after I’d loaded 2011-2014 into an album, I discovered that 2011 was missing our trip to Panama. I had to find those photos on the computer and get them printed. Then I had to take out the already-organized 2012-2014, insert Panama in the right spot to keep everything chronological, and re-put in the events after that.

Now I’ve discovered a piece of 2015 that’s missing. Things are complicated because not all photos are from my digital camera. Some come via Facebook, some via texts, and some are on Sophie’s phone and lost to parents without a lot of relentless reminders. Our niece Kelly’s wedding seems to be in all places – and no places.

So, if I have to re-do 2015, then (technically) I’m only current on four years of the sixteen year gap. My percentage of victory is down to about 25%. Not exactly a “mission accomplished.”

Once, about thirty years ago, I laid out every single photo I possessed on the living room floor. I batched them by years. Things were easier then: there was only one source for photos (my camera and prints given me) and I still remembered what the photos were photos of. Now, as I keep de-cluttering, new stashes of photos keep turning up. How can I tell one birthday party from another, yet another cross-country running race, another Girl Scout activity, many Runs for Women?
Whenever she visits, Sophie pulls out the albums of her birth-to-seven years. It’s fun to look at them; she’s cute and fun. But will albums of eight-to-18 be as interesting? Or am I just creating a never-to-be-consulted archive?
My sister is stuck with the family photo albums that no one wants simply because she’s the only one with a basement. And digital photos are multiplying exponentially – does anyone ever sit down for a delightful time browsing through old photos on their computer? Do you? So just what are we preserving all these photographic images for?

I must admit, as I’ve been adding in photos from 2011 and 2012, I turned to Tim and said, “Y’know, we have a nice life.” Until I saw all our adventures laid out, I wasn’t conscious of them as a body, as a “nice life.” It was nice to remember them.

Maybe the secret is a limit: only five photos max per occasion. Maybe we should schedule photo expirations: culling down to five per year max when they’re 25 or more years old?

Because I’ll bet your relationship to photos is the same as mine: the prospect of organizing them is a dread weight, an oppressive to-do, a recurring nightmarish “should.” Maybe my family should just sit down, open up the boxes and the digital photo libraries, laugh and hoot at the photos, make some piles, and toss the rest. I remember Marie Kondo saying toss first, then organize. Maybe this is a nice Thanksgiving vacation, family type activity.

It’s got to beat drowning in unsorted photos.

1 comment:

  1. Barbara - I took all 15,000 photos out of the albums, sent them to a company to be digitized, 1500 at a time. I have about 5 years per DVD. I've boxed up the returned photos - all fitting in about 10 photo boxes. Eventually, after I label all the photos on the DVD's (a project for retirement??), I'll toss most of the photos. It was hard. I had painstakingly made all 50 photo albums over the years. But they took up a closet, my daughter doesn't want the albums or the photos. Now it's all digitized and I can grab photos off the DVD's for TBT (Throw Back Thursdays) on Facebook or send funny ones to friends/family.


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