Is a handful of real photos better than thousands of digital snaps?

Photo 28-12-2016, 11 00 44
My Grandparents on their wedding day

I realised two day’s ago that my Father died 6 months to the day. For some reason his impending death made me start up Lost In Mobile again and I’m glad I did because it gave me an outlet that I didn’t otherwise have.

I still miss him terribly and haven’t really gotten over it in any sense with fragility able to strike at any moment. Work problems are exacerbated, stressful family moments, such as my Mother’s stroke which happened at the start of February, are even more difficult to deal with than they would otherwise have been and I am generally a sadder person than I had been before. No one would recognise that because I hide emotions under a veneer of stupidity and bad humour, but still it is there and still it remains.

One thing, however, that lifted me was the discovery of family photos that my Mother thought had been long lost and seeing them for the first time was a wonderful experience.

They offered a glimpse of a time that I had mostly been unaware of and with them some history that was completely new to me. For example, my Grandfather made the object below for his local church in Bo’ness and it was apparently one of many things he made when they were needed.

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I knew that he could make anything when I was a child. From cupboards to sheds to cutting my hair (he was a qualified hairdresser as well as a semi-pro goalkeeper and a woodworker) he could do it all and nothing phased him.

He was your typical Scotsman of the time. If anyone came to his house for any reason, the following conversation would ensue-

“Would you like a whisky?”

“Oh, no thank you. It’s a bit early.”

“OK, I will have one anyway.”

He only ever drunk in company and could roll a cigarette with one hand, a skill that mesmerises me to this day. He was rarely wrong and was incredibly forthright with his opinions, but he was kind to his family and someone people looked up to.

These traits are what I have seen in many Scottish people and to this day there is a reason why so many politicians are Scottish and also why they excel at football management and in many other areas. But, it is my Grandfather who sums up Scottishness for me and these photos take me back in an instant to a time when being a child meant just rolling with the punches and not worrying about tomorrow.

I also got to see glimpses of the past merging with the present, as the below photo shows-

Photo 28-12-2016, 11 01 08

This huge family photo includes a girl (bottom-right) who we do not know, but one thing struck me immediately. My daughter, Alice.

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Alice is the one on the right

You would have to see other photos of her, but it’s scary how similar they are. It could just be coincidence or it could be how genes work. Who knows, but it was another surprise in a sea of memories I did not know I had.

As we looked through the photos and studied them for an age, they became more and more important. Each one deserving of a decent frame and a place in the house that meant they would be seen.

Photo 28-12-2016, 11 03 11
My Mother and Father on their wedding day

So, the real question is, would these photos be so important if they had been found on an old computer disk of some kind and if there had been thousands of them?

There is a handful of photos of me from when I was young and no videos of our family or my Grandparents. Just a small selection of photos that have kept alive small glimpses of times that were important. Photos were taken at important times and not just because you had left the house. They were designed to capture significance and to not just sit on a phone where their importance would be reduced because of their number.

I have thousands of photos of my children which are of course important to me and seeing them flick over in the Apple TV is nice, but only a few of them are very important.

Maybe it doesn’t matter at all because all that should matter is the memory. What difference does it make if I am looking at a collection of pixels or a shiny piece of paper? In theory none, but I do wonder if the general significance of the photo as a form has been diminished because there are so many of them.


3 thoughts on “Is a handful of real photos better than thousands of digital snaps?

  1. A couple of things strike me:

    – It is far easier to stare in detail at a relatively small group of items. Had you found albums and albums of photos, perhaps you wouldn’t be in quite the same place as you are now?

    – We, like you, have a selection of photos as our Apple TV screensaver, and like that very much. We also have one photo from each holiday as a canvas on the wall, and those too work well. I wouldn’t see either as being better, really – just different.

    – There is an ease of access issue. With a photo, or a book, it is ready to consume. With an electronic file, you need to find a suitable reader / application etc. Which, depending on the age of the file, may not be too easy. And it is still easier to flick through a physical book than through an electronic one.

    I’m definitely a fan of digital, but that shouldn’t blind me to the benefits of analogue.

  2. Think of the joy you had when you found those photos. Now go forward 50 or 100 years and think of the joy your descendants will have if they found a cache of your printed photos. Another way to pay it forward.

    As for the family similarities, it’s genetics. Although I’ve heard it said that everyone has a twin somewhere in the world. I was visiting a 2nd or 3rd cousin and he had a family photo on the wall. One of the people looked almost exactly like my first cousin, who happens to look almost exactly like his and my uncle.

  3. Yes, curation is the challenge of our time. It’s a nice problem to have but it takes a lot of emotional courage to say “keep these, put these aside” – but it is that rejection of the others, even the middle ground ones, that helps increase the value of the ones you choose to put a focus on.

    (Similarly, with whatever form you do choose to pick some photos for future reflection by you and maybe even upcoming generations – don’t be too parsimonious with some kind of textual information to support it. I have some great old photos of people I think are my ancestors, but without context, it’s so tough to know who they were.)

    Anyway, last year I went through the 2 decades of digital photos I had taken, and picked a dozen of the best from each year – picking a mix of emotionally significant shots with ones I thought were more visually appealing:

    The rest I stash in a giant folder… i still back that up, i guess, but I made myself promise not to be too distraught if it went away. It’s the digital equivalent of the “old shoebox”

    (This ties in with other issues of archiving and management we’ve talked about. I kick myself for running a blog for ten years before coming up with a good system that keeps a fullsized version of the uploaded photo!)

    One slight flaw in this plan; so often it’s the mundane details in the background of these shots that interest me. It’s embarassing how I have some boudoir shots and rather than the attractiveness of the subject of the photo, I want a better image of what’s on the bookshelves behind…

    Anyway, I am thinking of taking my “best of the year” images and getting physical copies – maybe in one of those hardcover photo books, so it’s all well integrated.

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