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Pictures, I See Pictures!


My global declutter/organizing project has settled upon photos. I took 59 APS cartridges to a local camera shop and had them scanned and the results stored on CDs. I put a tiny fraction of the results up on Flickr, and then immediately turned to a more pressing concern: years of digital photographs that were stored only on computer. Specifically, a laptop that dates from 2009. After a few days of working on it (some interruption due to illness), I'm left with a handful of video formats that will need to be converted before I can put them on Flickr, and my Flickr photostream is well over a thousand photos now (but you won't be able to see hardly any of them, because almost all the people pictures are Me Only).

Whenever I engage in some kind of activity, I google around to see how other people do the same thing. In the course of this googling, I ran across Mathew Ingram's article from about a year ago:

http://www.businessweek.com/technology/are-photos-losing-meaning-and-permanence-02102012.html

At the time, I rolled my eyes, but I thought about it a lot, and I'm going to pick at some real problems with it.

His thesis is simple: high quality digital (video)cameras built into our phones = swamped by pictures, too disorganized to find the ones we (might) want. There's some surface plausibility to it. However, he then describes going to a funeral and the photos on display there. The lesson Ingram takes is, gee, whiz, how could anyone ever find the right photos for such an event after a life lived the way we do now? It Would Be So Hard!

"At the funeral I attended, there were a handful of photos of special moments. It probably didn’t take all that long to pick them out, even though this friend took a lot of pictures during his life."

First, I would like to point out that generally speaking, this sort of activity is undertaken by family's Designated Historian/Genealogist/Curator of Memories (there is no ceremony; you become one by boring all your relatives by asking them questions about things that happened a long time ago that no one really cares about and/or regaling them with same from some other family member they are distantly connected to). A project of the sort Ingram describes will take exactly as long as that designated caretaker thinks it will take, no more, no less, and is only very peripherally related to How Long the Job Should Take in some sort of objective sense.

Second, _all_ decluttering/organizing tasks partake of this character. Ingram says:

"Not all of those photos are worth keeping, but when storage is so cheap and sorting through them takes so long, why not just put them all somewhere and forget them?"

You're either going to go through them as you go, hopefully establishing an efficient habit, play catch-up on more than one occasion, or find yourself desperately digging through the cruft, making all those difficult decisions very, very quickly -- or you may find the decision made for you (as it could easily have for me -- by a crashed hard drive or a CD archive gone bad or a photo storage service gone out of business or whatever.

Nothing has changed.

It was striking to me how at the beginning of this photo component of the declutter/organize project, how hard it was to get rid of photos. In the end, the whole thing was saved by two discoveries. (1) The SFW disks I had of some of the APS film were going to be an incredible pain to turn into currently usable data. (2) I had written on the back of one of the Netherlands photos in ink which had bled through to the front of the photo. I noticed this when I was looking through that scrapbook. (I had initially thought I needed to reprint all of the Netherlands photos, because I couldn't find them, but then I did.)

Realizing I would probably feel compelled to just scan any prints I got anyway (given that some of these were not only Netherlands family photos, but genealogy photos from the Achlum graveyard and so forth), I figured I'd have everything digitized. (Thus satisfying A.'s concerns.) Once digitized, I figured I should come up with a someone-else-backs-it-up storage solution (thus satisfying R.'s concerns with deteriorating CD/DVD storage). I recognize I have service supplier risk (what if Yahoo goes out of business, type of thing), but I still believe the suppliers I pick are more reliable than me.

But if, like me, you spend hours looking at photos and uploading them to Flickr, from scattered files and discs, I suspect that you, like me, will discover that it's Damn Easy to just throw away 30% or more of your photos: blurry, dunno-who-that-is, wow-that's-unflattering, I-hate-that-person-now, I-can-see-the-frog-in-the-grass-yet-somehow-do-not-care, which-mountain-is-that-anyway, etc. With some batches, the percentage can creep way, way up.

Best of all, if you really do ruthlessly edit your photos before shoving them up to Flickr, your reward is a photostream that's actually sort of a joy to page through: all good pictures of people and places that you remember with fondness.

I don't see this going away any time soon. But like everything else, we have to learn how to deal with abundance where once we were coping with scarcity.