mother and daughter take a selfie together

Tech & Media

What Am I Going To Do With All of These Digital Pictures?

Dec 20, 2017

I’m looking at a picture of my daughter and my niece from the summer — they are belly deep in Lake Ontario on a sublime summer afternoon. The girls are all giggles, with goosebumped limbs intertwined as they mug for the camera. I had waded into the tepid water to capture this happy moment, risking my beloved phone in the process.

I think this is my favourite photo of all time. Or at least of the summer. Well, maybe of August. Let’s just say it’s my favourite of that day.

It's hard to say, because I literally have thousands of pictures. In fact, I have another 30 just like the one I’ve described. At some point in the series of photos, the kids looked downright annoyed. Clearly they just wanted to get the heck out of the lake so we could go and get an ice cream.  And we did get ice cream, but only after I figured out the best pic, identified the ideal filter and released it to the world.

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Never has there been a generation more photographed than this one. But ironically, some kids today will grow up without any actual physical photos of their adolescence. Smartphones have made taking pictures easier, sure, but hanging on to them is a whole other thing entirely. Gone are the days when parents printed photos and painstakingly arranged them into thick albums and intricate scrapbooks for future generations to pore over.

When I was a kid, I loved to go through the albums that my mom made. We would chuckle as we thumbed through the pages of baby-on-a-bear skin rug shots, or my personal favourite, a Sears portrait studio photo spontaneously arranged by our grandfather. It’s the worst/best picture ever. My face was covered in red blotches from a recent bout of chickenpox, and my hair had been sheared into a sassy Dorothy Hamill cut. My brother rocked a choice pair of brown and orange plaid polyester pants with disheveled hair that stood on end in no less than four different directions. It’s a hideous picture that only a grandfather could love.

But bad pictures are a thing of the past, which is kind of a shame. The disposable nature of photography today means most unflattering photos are instantly moved to the trash. And the good ones? They become trapped on people’s devices likely to never make it to a picture frame or photo album. Or lost forever from being dropped in the toilet, the lake or left in a cab. Sometimes I find myself posting pics to Facebook and Instagram, just so I know that I’ve put them somewhere.

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Savvier people tell me there are a million new ways to store pictures. But when l look into all the digital options for preserving my photos, my eyes start to glaze over and all I hear is "blah, blah, THE CLOUD" and "blah, blah, GOOGLE" and "blah, blah, EXTERNAL DRIVE."

And when you have thousands of pictures like I do, how do you decide which ones to keep and which ones to discard? We are so busy snapping photos and amassing collections of memories — adorable kid milestones, funny kid mishaps, selfies and dinners — it becomes hard to narrow down all the data to the images you actually want to remember.

A friend of mine, recently tasked with the bittersweet job of clearing out his parents’ house after moving his mother into a retirement home, discovered several stacks of old family photos he hadn’t seen before. On the back of each picture were handwritten dates, names and locations.

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He was thrilled to have these few moments of reflection, given the circumstances. He took great comfort in being transported to some of the happier moments in his family's life, through the photos in the palms of his hands. You wouldn't necessarily get the same effect if you had to scroll to beginning of someone's Instagram feed. 

The message to me was clear: Print your pictures. Document who is in them and add all the details you can. Then, put them somewhere safe. Because when we go, we’ll leave behind treasured memories. Let’s make sure we leave some photographs, too. 

Article Author Laura Mullin
Laura Mullin

Read more from Laura here.

Laura Mullin is a playwright, director and the Co-Artistic Director of Expect Theatre and PlayME Podcast. Laura is passionate about the arts and works in theatre, film, and new media. She lives in Toronto with her writer/producer husband and their budding fashion designer nine-year-old daughter. When Laura isn’t writing plays or turning them into podcasts, she can usually be found picking up tin foil and duct tape off the floor after one of her daughter’s many avant-garde art projects. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @expectlaura.

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