Taking photos - Why bother? And If so, When to bother!

So. Mum died about eight years ago, aged 75, and then my dad died at the end of 2021, aged 83. A pretty normal timescale for my parents and for that generation. But, amidst a house full of 80 years of mainly err... junk odds and ends (that took months to sort through), was my mum's prized photo collection.

It spanned four bookcases and comprised 100 albums, beautifully indexed and numbered, each with roughly 100 photos in. So 10,000 photos in all to do something with.

(one of the few of my 'dad on a cliff path' that I actually kept. He's IN the photo, not a dot on the horizon!)

There is no way I wanted my own house to inherit 10,000 physical photos, so the big sort out commenced. Despite taking over a man day, the process turned out easier than I'd expected. You see, in this collection, there were a huge number of:

  • landscape shots of the Cornwall and Devon cliffs and coastal path, usually in grainy gloom
  • flower beds from public gardens visited - so many flower beds!
  • snow in the garden, or on walks
  • my dad in an anorak on a coastal path, looking into the distance. Times 100 - or maybe 500. There were a lot of similar shots varying only in the location and exact path or cliff in the background.

All perfectly valid snaps, of course, and doubtless memories for my mum and dad, but clearly they have little value for me in 2023, let alone the next generation after me. So... they all had to go. Recycling, landfill, as needed. Sad, but it was the right thing to do.

Add in that most were taken in the pre-digital age on '126' and then eventually 35mm film, quite often on fixed focus cameras with no frills. So there was a lot of blurry, unusable rubbish. Not helped by the 24 photos per film (e.g.) limit and the 'I've paid for the film and developing, I'm jolly well going to keep the prints whatever their quality' mindset.

...Leaving me with about 200 (so 2%) photos which were worth keeping. Exclusively because they had people in them (other than yet another of my dad!) So weddings, parties, and other various get togethers, with recognisable faces and profiles, in some cases the only surviving images of various relatives. 

It turns out that by far (and I'm sorry if this sounds obvious) the most memorable photos and the ones which future generations may well prize are those of living, breathing people.

I got a lot of flack for my article postulating that phone cameras don't need more than 3x zoom, but the observations above do bear this point out again. In the future, what will your kids make of lots of 10x zoom shots of distant towers and cranes and squirrels and the moon - and (slightly fuzzy) people on stage in low light events?

(attempting an arty 5x or so zoom moon shot on one of my various phones - ho hum)

I'll tell you what they'll do. All into digital landfill, never to be seen again. (At least it's not physical landfill and helping ruin the environment!) What will get saved, downloaded, favourited by others will be those shots with people in. Friends, family, relatives, even pets(!) 

None of which is me discouraging you from snapping whatever the heck you want. Your pizza, the guy across the road mowing his lawn, the neighbour's cat, an approaching train, some clouds, animals in the zoo, blurry dancing people at a party, you name it, you can snap it all in this 'almost-infinite space' digital world. 

Just don't pretend that such photos are essential, either to you now or to your family in the future!

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JT said…
Having had the same experience, I am entirely with you. It is only photos of human beings that count. Perhaps with the addition of premises that those human beings were connected with. The rest can safely be left to postcards.
However,I go further. Unless the mass of the remaining material is digitised future generations are unlikely to keep the material.
@JT: Yep, which is why I also started digitising the few hundred of my mum's photos - I've done about 80% in a few months, doing them in batches of 20 or so. I was going to scan them in a scanner, but it turns out that putting a photo on a window ledge (for light) and photographing with a decent camera phone also works. Others mileage may vary!!
Robin Ottawa said…
Partially agree. You're talking about photos as memories, but photos can also be for sharing experiences of the moment and for tools. I would say that 1% of my shots are the kind of images you are discussing. 1% of those might be keepers, as you say, although more are keepers for me during my lifetime. But 50% of my shots are just for sharing the moment with family and friends on social media, and the rest are my "work/hobby" shots. These include monitoring nature (crowd sourced on iNaturalist) and every day memory aids for dealing with life (comms we all do with friends, businesses, academics, civic work).

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