Here’s a question for you: why do you take photographs? To preserve some memories? To show off to friends (over the quality of your holiday or the quality of your shots)? As a creative outlet? To hone your post production technical skills? And here’s another question: what is the end result? A burgeoning file gathering digital dust? Some print- outs on the wall? A photo- book? And if you were to close your eyes now and remember the photographs you took from your last holiday, how many can you recollect?
Digital cameras have revolutionised the way we take photos. No longer are we stifled by the sound of pound coins rolling into Mr Kodak’s back pocket every time the shutter clicks. There is no need to scour the high streets of our chosen destination vainly searching for a 200 ISO 36 shot, or weigh up the benefits of forking out a few quid extra for an ‘arty’ B&W film. As soon as the memory card came to our rescue, we were unfettered to freely click away as much as our liberated index finger would allow. Why not, its FREE!!! All we have to do is delete the unwanted pics and there we have it, a holiday collection reaching a new level of quality.
Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I fear the reality misses one vital step in this photographic journey. We arrive back from our day in the sun, and scroll through the catalogue of the day’s events as we recline on the sun lounger sipping a G&T. The intention was to do some trimming. After all, 500 is a bit excessive for one trip to the beach, lovely though it was. But when the moment comes, deleting a photograph seems so final, so ruthless. Once that dustbin lid rattles, there’s NO GOING BACK. A precious memory deleted for ever, never ever ever to be found again. This will never happen again, that moment of a lifetime, consigned to oblivion with an arbitrary anti-click of the finger. And it’s all so unnecessary. The new hard drive at home promises the ability to store over 1 million photos, so why not keep them, just in case…. So we arrive back from holiday with a burgeoning data stick of 1000 photos. They are duly filed (date order). There is a brief foray back into them with a willing friend, but the task is unmanageable and they are abandoned at photo number 352. Work then takes over, the thought of sifting through them and deciding which ones to print is too onerous, and there they remain- mydocuments/pictures/2012/June (2.4GB).
May I humbly suggest that this mental explosion of mass photography is driven by a total fear of losing memories? Yet when we do get round to reminiscing about the past, be it our own or that of someone close to us, does the joy not come precisely in the scarcity of a photographic representation of that moment? A single shot, or a small album, gives us the material to then let our imaginations soar as we reach back to an era tinged with the mystique of time, that unknown and incomprehensible world when your mum never even knew you and wore flares and whose colour has slightly bleached away. For me, that is the delight of memory: enough reminders to catch the imagination, enough mystery to let it run free.
So go on, I dare you. Delete delete delete, then print print print. Your kids will thank you for it.