The Photos that will Never Be
This week I had my photograph taken with a group of colleagues for a work magazine. 10 of us – 2 men and 8 women, none of whom particularly wanted their photograph taken, gathered round in a huddle of strategically placed poses, attempting to make ourselves look both presentable and professional, happy yet natural. It took a while. As always with modern technology, images become disposable. The first few attempts were discarded – a blink here, a wonky smile there, and a few people trying to hide behind their co-workers. After around 10 attempts, we settled on an image. I hated it but accepted my fate. Not only did I have my foot folded down in a semi nervous disposition, but I looked about 6 months pregnant. A stark reminder that I need to tackle the ever deteriorating diet.
This, and I post I read today in the Telegraph really resonated with me – how photographs are becoming disposable, editable and virtual and as such, are rapidly losing their value. Gone are the days of photo albums and fancy frames, instead leaving the average person with a wealth of just digital images, catching hypothetical dust in the cloud as opposed to physical dust on a shelf. The risk is that these images will become lost, unreachable to our children or our children’s children. Whilst we share key moments on social media; the normal, the unsubstantial day to day moments, simply fade into insignificance.
Research recently found that just 23% of photographs taken end up in a traditional album. Of an estimated 631 million photographs taken every single year, around a third will remain forever on online accounts or stored obsolete hard drives, making them inaccessible to both us and our future generations.
I am a blogger, and such, take substantially more photographs than perhaps the average person. You only have to look at my camera roll on my phone and see the latest count of 11,919 to know that I am what some might term ‘snap happy’. I love capturing moments, recording memories and photographing the day to day – the things that otherwise might get forgotten. Our home, our car, our Saturday walks to the local park, I am somewhat of a photo whore. That said, I am rarely in them, but always behind them, creating them, encouraging them and capturing them. But how many of these images have I printed? Very very few.
As a lover of physical photography, the shift away from traditional albums saddens me.
My mother was somewhat religious about her photo albums. It became almost ritualistic. After every holiday she would sit at the computer, sifting through the hundreds of images they had taken on their travels and carefully select her favourites to make the cut. She would send off for them to be printed in bulk, before handwriting some information on the back – a reminder for future generations, a note, an anecdote or a memory. She would spend hours on her hands and knees in the lounge, sorting images into chronological order, before carefully slipping them into an album, occasionally missing a page and having to shuffle them all back so there wasn’t a gap. I always admired her commitment.
Head to my parents house and you will discover a sliding wardrobe full of albums, all neatly labelled with the year on the spine, generally increasing in thickness and quantity from the onset of digital photography. I have photos from literally every year of my childhood and have spent many an afternoon sat on a cosy sofa in my Dad’s study, slowly thumbing through the images in a moment of nostalgia.
Since we lost Mum in 2013, that wardrobe has held a somewhat of a magnetic pull, a sense of wanting to relive what I’ve lost perhaps or to ensure my memories don’t fade. A quick flick through the albums and I am immediately transported back to that moment – from the Christmas where I opened up the gloworm and let out a little yelp of glee, to the family holiday where we went to the waterpark and marvelled at the amazing floating tap. The trips to Black Gang Chine in the Isle of Wight where I sat on a giants foot and climbed on model dinosaurs, to the visit to Drayton Manor where Mum went on the pirate ship for the first time and could no longer feel her tummy. From splashing in paddling pool and water slides in our back garden, to the family weddings, parties and birthdays, these moments are all there, chronologically ordered and protected in an album, nestled amongst all the memories my Mother created, just as I do for my own girls. Looking back through these images I remember the way I felt and the joy that was captured in every single photo. They may not be perfect, but they are authentic. Genuine, un-doctored and full of imperfections, but they truly reflect how I looked and acted at that time.
Mum was no photographer. There are images with more floor than people, images where she had tried desperately to capture us zooming down a water slide at speed; inevitably resulting in half our heads being missing from the shot, and images where she forgot to move her thumb in what was otherwise a ‘perfect’ family photo. There was even the odd hilarious shot with a poorly placed background, like the photo of my Dad that looked like he had a lighthouse growing out of his head. The photo that conveniently went missing when I suggested sending it in to Wackaday for a feature on children’s TV. We never did find it.
As I grew older, I was bought my own camera, and started creating albums of my own. Armed with my trusty Fujifilm cartridge, I’d set up the film and scroll the dial round after every single photo, before completing my full quota of 36 images, and popping them back in the case, ready to drop into Max Speilman and have that anxious wait for developing. If I was feeling particularly impatient, I’d pop two or three films in on an hours service, heading to McDonalds to pass some time with a frie’ or two before heading back at least 15 minutes early in a hope that the little pocket of photos with my name on would be ready to collect.
I’d bustle out of the shop full of anticipation, and race to the nearest bench with my friends where we would sit thumbing our way through every single one, passing them around and laughing at the stupid expression on Lisa’s face, the photobomb from my crazy older sister, or the time Digger the family dog caught me off guard and I was captured falling off my chair in a lucky action shot. We’d then get the blurry ones, the odd photo of the floor, or those with an under exposed guidance sticker when the image wasn’t quite what we’d expected. It was exciting and I loved waiting for the big reveal. It was unpredictable, sometimes a disappointment, and the majority were too dark, but the ones we did get, the 20 or so images that made the final cut, were true representations of that moment, and I treasured every single one.
I love looking back on the shellsuits, the crop tops, the crimped hair and the dummy necklaces. The pictures from my school prom where I wore a dress that I felt a million dollars in but afterwards realised had the worst VPL I have ever seen. The school photos where my thick unruly hair protruded from behind my ears, and my tongue stuck out between my teeth in a somewhat goofy smile. My first boyfriends, my first girly holidays, and the unposed reality of my youth. They are hilarious, but most likely in this generation, a mere fraction of them would have made the cut.
The reality is, photography, memory capture and the recording of our life has become disposable, editable and somewhat disingenuous. Sure, I have some amazing images of my children, some that I will cherish forever, but they are the desirable, the perfect version of my reality, the images I want to represent my life. Not only am I rarely in front of the camera, but on the rare occasions that I am, it is probably either a well timed shot, or the 22nd attempt of the image I wanted to portray. The bad shots? Immediately deleted. The ones where more greys show than I’d wish or my tummy sticks out? Gone in an instant. The one with a stupid expression on my face? Evidence wiped.
The irony is that those deleted shots are the visuals that are more likely to form part of My daughters’ memory. The Mummy they know is not the Instagram filter. It’s not the ones of me with perfectly straight hair and a face full of make up. The reality is that the Lucy in the images I share on social media, isn’t the Mum that the girls know and love, and isn’t the version of their Mummy they see when they closes their eyes at night. As much as I have many a beautiful photo of my mother, the posed and perfect shots aren’t the ones that hold an emotion for me. Instead they are the silly, the natural, the living in the moment. THIS photo I can picture in my mind no matter where the physical image may be. I have looked at this photo more times than I can remember, and each time I feel happy inside.
So today I too have made myself a promise. Despite the onset of living in the cloud, I am going to stick to my roots and continue in my mothers footsteps. I will give my children the gift that Mum gave me, and I WILL create albums – even if just one a year, of our favourite moments together as a family. I will try and be more accepting of the Mother that I really am, and ensure that whether or not I love what I see, that I will love what it represents. Family. I will capture our photos in physical form, and let Erin and Neve enjoy the magic of bringing down those albums to show their own children as they grow up.
I am a proud child of the 80s, and I will let the albums live on. And yes, I will step out every now and again from behind the lens and get a photo of me with my girls, warts and all. I owe it to them both to do so.