I love my photo albums.
I am very diligent at putting together my photo albums. When we took pictures on film, as soon as we picked up the prints from the chemist or the Fotomat I’d stick them in an album, the ones with the clear plastic you’d peel back from the sticky page, and add a written comment to each photo. I’d stick the date on the album’s spine and put it on the bookshelf with the other albums. Now, I upload the images to my computer, select the ones to print, and put them into their albums.
At last count I have 60 photo albums. They include photos from my childhood, in the 1950s and 60s; my uni days; 1975, when my wife and I met; the 70s and 80s, when our daughters were born; trips in Australia, America, Paris, and our most recent album of our road trip in the South Island of New Zealand.
Then there are the thousands of photos never printed which are on my computer, and the thousands of old photos which never made it into an album. They are in shoeboxes somewhere in the garage.
For my wife and me these albums are precious. We actually will pull one out and flip through it, remembering where we were, what we were feeling at the instant the photo was taken. Sometimes I look at a particular album to remind myself that ‘Hey, you really were there!’ Or, ‘You really did look like that!’
The photos remind us how our girls looked when they really were just little girls, when we were new parents. We look at my long gone parents, father-in-law, our aunts, uncles and grandparents- and friends, more and more now. These photos reconnect us to those we love, miss and remember with much happiness. We gain a small insight into their worlds, their lives.
One album is especially precious. It is my father in law’s (whom I never met) which he compiled during World War Two while stationed in Papua New Guinea. The black and white images are barely larger than a postage stamp. He carefully mounted each one on the album’s black paper with glued on photo corner mounts. He wrote in immaculate and perfect penmanship under each photo. The care and devotion he put into the album is incredible.
Photos from before we had home computers, and the Internet, are indeed precious. Today’s images, however, being so incredibly easy to take, transmit and share, have little value in comparison to ours. A rare photo of my grandfather is indeed rare. Images of me, now also a grandfather, are so easy to access that I doubt my grandkids will ever go to the effort of looking for them.
Our albums are priceless to us; will these albums mean anything to anyone else? Will my daughters want them? Will they enjoy flipping through them like we do?
I doubt it.
After all, my daughters don’t have many printed photos of them and their kids, much less albums. There are plenty on Facebook, and thus somewhere in the cloud, but I haven’t seen a single album. Welcome to their world, I suppose.
I recently read that every day we are taking and uploading billions of photos, mostly with smartphones, but no one is actually ever going to really look at them more than once. They are a simple attachment to a brief message or email, an Instagram selfie, but they lack the memories, the emotions, the histories which the photos we care enough to print and put in our albums possess.
Unless our kids bother to print their photos, they may very well one day discover that the photos they thought were safe ‘in the cloud’ are gone. The cloud is, after all, just some huge corporation’s computers which store your images. Who is to say that these clouds will remain intact? The corporation may go bankrupt, or inadvertently wipe the images. They are after all, just clouds, and clouds have a habit of clearing, don’t they?
Whether someone ever looks at my albums, and reminisces about our lives, as we do about ourselves and our relatives, doesn’t really matter. What matters is we can, and do, look back at our lives through the images we took the time to take, sort and print. As we approach the end of our lives, being able to look back gives us increasingly more pleasure. Our albums don’t enable us to relive our lives, but this is close enough.
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