Of photographs and memories
Updated: May 6, 2019
Remember the days when you stored prints of photographs in albums that you could comb through together as a family, and laugh and cry and reminisce over? After coming across a boxful of such photo albums while hunting for some old papers, I spent the best part of an hour looking through pictures of my first trip to my husband’s hometown soon after we were married, pictures of my two year old with his Skeletor, He-Man and Castle Grayskull, him cutting his cricket-themed cake on his seventh birthday...so many memories. And such awful, awful hair, (mine, not my son’s) which I could have done without remembering.
As always, I made a resolution that I have never been able to keep - make photo albums that would hold all the happiest memories that we could sit together as a family and enjoy without involving a screen of some sort. Seeing photos on a computer, or now on your phone, doesn’t have anywhere near the same impact, because it becomes such an individual activity.
I just checked and found I have 8,610 photographs on my phone, which is probably 8,000 more than I took in the first 40 years of my life. And I can’t remember the last time I looked through them. Even if I suddenly remembered a lovely trip we had gone on in 2015, the prospect of scrolling through three years of images is daunting. Perhaps this is a product of the age I grew up in, but there’s also a strange sense of coldness to it, a sort of distant familiarity where you look at a photo and simply acknowledge, “Oh yeah, I remember this. That was fun,” and quickly move on.
There were the days when you had film in your camera and you had to come back from holiday and get your film developed. I remember as a child, waiting eagerly for the photographs to be printed, and of course, the results would always be a mixed bunch. You could have heads cut off, a black hole instead of a sunset, a ghostly spirit where your uncle was supposed to be and so on.
And then one day, many years later, we had the magic of a digital camera that not only gave you the ability to shoot photographs that did justice to a magnificent scene that lay in front of you, but gave us the much appreciated convenience of being able to check instantly and reshoot till we were happy with the result.
This held especially true of occasions like weddings, when half a head, closed eyes or funny expressions (funny to everyone else but the person in question) may well have seemed like the end for the world. Had this existed when I got married, maybe my wedding album would not have had to vanish mysteriously.
Somewhere along the way, I stopped carrying a camera with me when I travelled. I don’t even remember when that was but I know why it happened. It was when Apple finally decided that they had to get with it and improve the camera on the iPhone.
Look around next time when you are on holiday. There will be at least a 100 phones around for every one camera, and even that may be an understatement. People are shooting constantly, and everything these days is photo-worthy. Phones are being sold on their selfie-taking qualities and everything from shoelaces to muffins is stored on people’s phones.
Everyone takes photos incessantly irrespective of the occasion and place, many with the sole objective of posting on social media where they are soon hidden under a deluge of newer posts, and then instantly forgotten. But then social media was never about making memories, was it?
I do regret the fact that we didn’t have the convenience of a phone to record every instance of my baby’s first few years, but I do remember so many details about every single photograph we have of him. So many memories came rushing back that day, and only served to remind me of maybe how much more I had forgotten of more recent years. That time when we found snow in May at a tiny railway station somewhere between Oslo and Bergen, the unscheduled stop on top of a mountain near Pokhara where we had tea with the villagers or walking through the magnificence of Victoria Memorial at dawn.
We all have so many beautiful digital photographs on all our devices but you have to wonder whether the abundance of photos in our lives today has made past memories a bit more irrelevant.