These ancient relics discovered in a box of (equally ancient) light bulbs, reminded me of my epiphany about the loss of the printed photo. It happened in 2011, when a good friend was leaving to live overseas for a year or two. I was inspired by a photo that came up on my digital picture frame at work. The photo was of her from more than 20 years earlier: she’s laughing, holding a bouquet of balloons that we had just transported in her Ford Escort from Vancouver to Squamish and were about to deliver to another friend for her 30th birthday. After safely getting the balloons all that way, we succeeded in popping several when extracting them from the car, leading to gales of laughter and the need for a picture of the now-diminished bunch of balloons. I’m sure there are other pictures from that day, but I only need that one to remember the whole adventure.
Inspired by the quotidian smile induced by that digital picture, I decided to make a small album of printed photos for her to take with her on her expat adventure. I brought home my boxes of photos from storage, Tupperware bins of memories dating back 20 years, 40 years. (A reminder of an incomplete project to catalogue the family albums. But that’s for another day.) I found the box I needed, with the actual albums in it, and began the search for relevant photos.
Which of course led to the typical hours of reverie and reminiscing that albums bring, flipping the pages of the past and moving seamlessly from happy through wistful to sad and back again, as memories fly and fall like meteors from a starry sky. Eventually, I remembered the objective and flipped back to circa 1991 to find the first picture I had of the two of us. Again, a flood of memories and revisiting that story – another road trip, with more laughter but no balloons.
I was aiming to compile 24 pictures in total. I had more than half when I ran out of albums: after 2004, there are no more. But how can that be?, I thought. I remember pictures of us after that date. From our road trip to the Okanagan, our shared Christmases with the dogs, her birthday and wedding. And then the flash bulb of epiphany: the transition from print to digital. Yes, I had all those photos, but none of them printed, just saved on a hard drive.
Thus the inevitable flipping and sorting of digital files. Albums and folders and files with meaningless names such as DCSF0004 or Xmas05 requiring much reorganization, but again a project for another day.
I at last tracked down all the photos for the collection, and then completed the circle of irony by scanning the original prints and submitting all the digital files online to the photo store. For printing.
I’ve since done a few other small photo projects for friends, but always with the same struggle to find the new versus old, and always with that recognition of the digital cliff that occurs in my archives in 2004. For vacation photos, I still enjoy the immediate and longer term reminiscences of flipping through pictures after a holiday, just now at my computer instead of in a book. For other photos, they do tend to get dissolved in the sea of digital pictures with amorphous names, but they’re never really lost. Like that big box of uncategorized photos or the smaller boxes of negatives and slides (yes, slides), they are there to find if you want to look and hunt hard enough.
As for sharing online, I enjoy the connections that can be made more immediately and more broadly in the internet age, not with the Twittersphere but with my smallish circle of friends or with a more select few. I have particularly enjoyed being able to share in the lives of my faux-neices and nephews (in my status as faux-aunt) and of my god-daughter. Without the sharing of their digital lives, we would be unknown to each other, and that would be a real loss to me.
Being able to snap a photo and share it almost instantly can add intimacy and joy to an everyday moment, to say, “you might enjoy this” or “this made me think of you and smile”. Those spontaneous snaps, whether sent or received, make me feel connected at moments when I might be feeling very alone, and bring a smile and the warmth of knowing that I love and am loved.
No hashtags, just a subliminal “I thought about you”. That always makes me smile.
Update 2020: the original inspiration for this post was a blog that is sadly no longer available.