I am often amazed by the technological world we live in. So many options, so much visual media, so many photos. But yet I still find such great joy in discovering the photos of my past that may have been tucked away or forgotten, and I revel in the images, like walking down memory lane. I looooove looking at old photos, even of people I don’t even know. I love imagining how things were, who was there, what life was like. Putting together the pieces through photographs.
When I was a child, a teenager, and even a young adult, of course, we didn’t have digital photography. You had a camera, usually not of great quality, and film. You didn’t shoot a million photos, because especially as a teen with limited funds, developing film was expensive. You chose your moments, photographed what was important to you (special events, birthdays, family gatherings, etc.) and really, compared to now, missed a lot of great memories that could have been captured.
These days everyone always has a camera on them, and photos are rarely taken with thought and purpose. Sometimes someone will capture something that turns out to be really important, or phenomenal, but the motivation behind the constant recording is often narcissistic in nature – who can post the best photos, who can beat the wedding photographer to posting images of the bride and groom, how many “hot” pictures can you share of yourself or images of your “cover story” life that shows something quite different than what is actually real. Much of the purpose is lost, and the sheer volume of images is often very overwhelming. In lots of ways, portraits have lost their rarity and value, which really makes me so sad.
The summer before my senior year in high school I took college courses, including photography. We learned exposure, composition, and developing film in the darkroom. I can still smell the chemicals and see the red light. It was like magic, watching your photos come to life, not knowing if they were the correct exposure or sharp focus… it was such a thrill to see what you captured and if it matched what you saw at the moment. In this class, I had license (and assignment) to take photos of objects and things that attracted me visually, something that was a luxury I had never done, because of the expense. I wandered the streets looking for unique lines or subjects. Then I would go back and develop the film to turn in for my assignments.
I threw away a lot of the prints at that time, because at the time they seemed insignificant beyond my grades. But a couple years ago I pulled out all my old negatives (which I never threw away) and had them scanned by a professional company… and oh, the joy when they came back! The silliest of things… trees, shots of Downtown St. Cloud, local buildings, mannequins in the Dayton’s store.
Photos that brought back a feeling of what I saw back then. Places I took for granted, how myself and my friends dressed, the corner we hung out on, a concert I attended. Even a couple images of myself that were thrown away immediately (because in those days, selfies did not exist and there was nothing worse to a teenager than seeing a photo of yourself!) How amazing it is to actually see how I looked… my hairstyle, my makeup, my clothes… all up close and real. Thank goodness for negatives. Those images are priceless to me now and so enjoyable.
So what I say to you now is, take advantage of how easy it is to capture your life. Don’t just take constant selfies. Notice the world around you…. because it does and will change. Photograph your house, your Sunday dinners, your Grandma’s living room, the restaurants you frequent, your job, your favorite hangouts. Photograph the people you love, doing what they do. You never know when they won’t be there. Photograph the people in your everyday life that maybe aren’t your best friends, but that are a part of your story. You might forget about them someday, but a photo can bring back so much.
Capture your life in it’s everyday motion, rather than always posing for a photo. Those are the images that will become priceless in days to come, if you are the type that likes to tell and re-live your story. Document the world around you as you see it. And try to be purposeful with your photographs. Maybe, even, (gasp!) buy a film camera and see if it changes how you see things, what you choose to photograph.
Organize your photos, take the time to file and label and do things to help you remember when – where – who. Someday, someone might really want to know and share your story after you are gone. And most importantly, PRINT your photos. Because you never know when that cell phone will fail, or that hard drive will crash, and negatives no longer exist in most people’s photographic world. Facebook is great, but photos and memories get lost in the sheer volume of social media. Back up, protect, but print. Enjoy those images. That’s what they are for…. to tell your story and to enjoy.