One of the prides of my life is being complimented with the opinion that I take really great photos. I credit this to a few things. I have loved photography since forever. Not the technical aspect of it so much because ugh, math, work, pass. I have just always loved the aspect of capturing a moment, of freezing time.
I also come from a long line of people who treasured — and valued — family photographs. Thus, I tend to adhere to the opinion that if it’s not in the photo album, it probably didn’t actually happen.
I am blessed to have hundreds of images dating to the late 1800s that allow us to imagine the people, places and even pets that populated the lives of those who came before us.
In the 1920s my ahead-of-her-time great gram posed playfully in a balance beam in a “gymnastics bloomer” that looks like it should drag her down by sheer weight of the fabric alone. Later photos show my beautiful grandmother in high school hijinks that remind us she was someone completely different once, than the mother and grandmother we know today.
My own parents reality would be rendered in vivid Kodachrome when two teenagers posed holding a newborn in front of a muscle car. How could anyone ever have really been THAT young?
My own 1980s teenage-dom is well documented in photographs — big hair, parachute pants and all. I even had the prescience to take photos of my own trashed bedroom to document how I really lived. For the record: like a pig. That one I’ll hide from my own kids for a few (thousand) more years.
Clearly, I am a person who understands the importance of a great — or even passably good — snapshot. Despite my prolific trigger finger on the snapshot button, I have begun to question if you can have too much of a good thing?
All of us cherish our childhood photos because even among a fairly prolific photo-taking family — you are not going to be talking about 10,000 images a year. I have, at most, a few hundred images covering almost 100 YEARS, and easily 10,000 or more covering the last ten.
Blessed with a mother who knew her way to Fotomat, I nonetheless find that all my childhood photos fit in a stack of well-organized albums tucked into a trunk in my mother’s living room.
Most people seem to share the same issue. They have anything from an envelope, to a shoebox to, perhaps, a bookshelf of family photo albums to reference. At the rate I take photographs, we will eventually need a storage unit to house them all.
I think that too many photos is like too much of any good thing. Eventually you don’t appreciate what you have due to the sheer amount of it. I have carefully scrap-booked, cataloged, and categorized the moments and memories of our lives into a slew of photo albums that fill the bookshelves in our home.
Even as I cherish them I wonder where our children are moving that they can take 97 scrapbook albums of their PAST when they are working to build their FUTURE?
I think they will appreciate the photos and stories but not if they become so overwhelming as to be more a “chore” than a blessing. I also suspect that they will eventually just have to reach into a pile, pull a chunk to keep and let some of it go.
Imagine, if you will, that your grandparents had tens of thousands of images of their lives, and your parents, and then you, and so on and so on. Eventually families would need climate controlled storage units just to house it all.
You’d need a family photo librarian to keep it all straight. Or you’ll have it all neatly organized on discs that went out of style like eight-tracks a generation ago, or that are accessible but who bothers?
I will always cherish my photos, but I’m trying to capture the essence and meaning of our lives beyond taking 10,000 photos a month so we can create a flip book of every moment of every day.
I also try to make sure I still capture candid moments. Posed portraits, while charming, don’t tell the story near as well as all those “messy” backgrounds that made up who we are and what we lived in 2010 and beyond.
I cringe when someone tells me they have everything from their baby’s christening to that same baby’s first day of kindergarten all on the same memory card that they haven’t gotten around to downloading yet. It takes all I have not to stage an intervention!
I would never tell anyone to skip taking photographs. I only suggest that we remember that 300 images of one birthday may mean less, in jogging future memories, than one meaningful snapshot of your everyday life.
Digital imagery has made it possible to instantly delete the chaotic, blurred, and messy from our photographic memory. I suggest that every once in a while you aim your camera at your “real life.”
The table cluttered with schoolbooks, your old barn boots, the shoes piled by the door, all carry the memory and meaning of who you are — were — on this moment in this day. Don’t forget to capture that.
Just remember that it’s a good sign that you are taking a few too many photos if your nickname is Paparazzi.
(Kymberly Foster Seabolt says “cheese!” She welcomes comments (and photographs!) c/o LifeOutLoud@comcast.net; P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460; www.KymberlyFosterSeabolt.com.)
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