Saturday, January 09, 2010


John Clayton, a Union Leader columnist and local historian (I even got a brief mention in his first book), suggest that we should be print out our important photographs and writing the names and descriptions on the back. Certainly, he is able to cite examples from his own work where "it's a good thing someone did that" in some instances and "don't we wish someone had done that" in others. Most people who have gone through old family photographs have had the experience of wishing Aunt Edna were still alive to tell us who that other couple in the picture at the pond were.

Add to this Lewis Lapham's thought that paper may outlast Google Digital Library, and one has to wonder if we are making information so instantly recoverable that it is is also more disposable than we realise.

I'm not rooting for the old ways on this. Twenty years ago I would have, insisting that libraries should be libraries, dammit, with dusty books. But for information junkies, nostalgia has taken a far back seat to access. I like reading in my comfortable chair, and I have a very long wish list on Amazon - okay, that sort of gives away the game right there, doesn't it? - but I find I do less and less. My family (and Boethius's), may be among the last holdouts teaching their descendants the arcane art of reading off a page, but even for me it is becoming hobbyish.

Photographs are now a different experience as well. Waiting days for your prints to come back - sometimes only 12 to a roll - made each one more of a treasure, each spoiled one more of a loss. We are now deluged with photos that even we no longer look at, piles of them lying in their paper sleeves, accusing my poor wife of neglect while they await placement in their final home, an album with plastic covers on the pages.

Will anyone bother? Why should they? We have massive rolodex photo holders that chronicle our lives from 1975 - 2000, and guests sometimes like to browse those. Fun. But even with that last extra boost of accessibility, the photos go unnoticed and untouched from month to month.


Donna B. said...

I've got a stack of pictures from my mother where she wrote helpful things on the back. Like "1st birthday".

Boethius said...

I just went through old photographs yesterday with my parents The photos belonged to my grandmother and her sister. Fortunately, many of them were marked and so, we knew who the people were. For the rest, my dad did a pretty good job recalling places, people, and possible dates.

My mother said it was sad to think all these people existed and are gone. I responded, thinking optimistically for them and myself, that I could not wait to meet them in eternity.

Since middle-age forgetfulness is creeping in on me, I think I will go mark all my photos so I can explain them over the next twenty years to any descendants who want to know.

Dan D said...

Mother is still living, and we have many hundreds of photos dating from the late 1890's to the early 1990's. The newspaperman who raised my orphaned grandmother was an avid photographer, her husband was an even more avid photographer and historian, and my late father also took lots and lots of pictures.

We have slides from the 1930's through the 1970's as well.

Lots of photos have been notated on the back, some slides on their holders.

The sad part is, there are none in the younger generation who give a hoot about even looking at these old photos, much less cataloging or preserving them. Same goes with my siblings and cousins. When Mother and I pass on who will care?

I suspect the many, many digital images we all capture today will mostly go unseen as well.