If you’re like me, (Gen-x adult, pre-digital age) than your personal photographic history is in the form of a snapshot, the ubiquitous 4×6 or 5×7 shiny Kodak or Polaroid print stored in a box somewhere in your basement. Maybe you dig them up every so often for #TBT or maybe you just like to look at them to remind yourself how thin you were when you thought you were fat or how young you looked when you thought you were old. No matter your reasons, there is nothing like a crappy, often unflattering snapshot to bring us back to certain points in our lives.
My own boxes have survived several moves, a flooded basement, 2 hurricanes and a near constant level of deteriorating moisture. Some of the pictures are faded. Some are stuck together. Sometimes I don’t recognize the people in them and sometimes the pictures dredge up painful memories of regret. In a few I am thin as a rail, in others not so much. But these pictures catalog my past, dividing it into stages — high school, college, my NYC years, marriage and my first child, people I’ve loved and those I’ve tried to forget. At some point the pictures stop. It’s not that I stopped taking them. I just stopped printing them. Digital media (hard drives, CDs, the cloud), ephemeral yet seemingly endless, became the method of choice for storing my memories. Beautiful, artistic images might adorn my walls but the common, everyday snapshots never see the light of day.
When my brother and I were young we would hole ourselves up in our parent’s closet and pore through shoe boxes filled with pictures they’d amassed over the years. We’d laugh at ourselves as babies — my chunky baby self filling the frame — and appreciate the elegance of our grandparent’s wedding pictures. There were moments we could recall with absolute clarity and many we didn’t but we knew this much: here was our history.
Pictures — the good ones and the mediocre — connect us to our past as much as our future. So what happens when that physical manifestation of our history disappears and all we are left with are the pixels we can de-encrypt from an outdated phone? If you doubt the possibility let me remind you of some of the natural disasters of recent years. Destruction is not just possible, it’s inevitable. Facebook won’t be around forever. At some point most of us will be forced to live in an analog world — even if only for a few days .
I am a photographer so I take lots of pictures. I take some with my work camera and I take many with my Iphone. My Iphone pictures are uploaded to a dropbox and stored on my hard drive automatically through the cloud. A backup program runs quietly on my computer and uploads my hard drive data to an off site backup server. It’s a nice process and quite seamless. Most people don’t even go that far. I cringe when people tell me how they store their valued pictures on a DVD, a mostly obsolete storage method. These days new computers aren’t even sold with a DVD player so given the rapid rate of technology change, DVDs will soon be as archaic as a floppy disc. You would think we would learn but we rarely do — until it’s much too late.
My challenge before the end of the year, to myself and everyone out there, is to resurrect the snapshot. Print those mediocre IPhone pictures — the ones you took of your kids on the playground. Put together family albums — they don’t have to be perfect and it’s really never been easier. You can design an album of instagram photos using a Blurb book. Artifact uprising makes some really nice and very affordable albums and I love their tag line: Inspired by the disappearing beauty of the tangible. And how adorable are the mosaic albums? You can download the app directly to your phone and print those iPhone pictures directly from your phone. It’s as easy as sending a text.
If you don’t want an album, then print some cheap prints at shutterfly or snapfish or my personal favorite: mpix.com. Foxgram.com prints instagram prints and they even sell a cute little album to store them. But it doesn’t matter whether you display them in frames or store them in a shoebox somewhere in your basement. Printing them gives them meaning and value. Sure a snapshot can get ruined but try losing a whole childhood of pictures when you carelessly drop an unbacked up external drive. I promise you the latter is much more nauseating.
My children love to dig through my boxes as much as I did. They ask questions. They want to know if that’s me with the funny/big/red/blonde/ hair. I love that they see value in my past and I hope they will carry on the tradition of documenting their life, even if it’s only for themselves.