I have a grand total of four (physical) pictures. I threw the others in the trash.
Photography is a relatively new invention in the world. It’s prudent to discuss the downsides of new technology. Some of the downsides of pictures are significant.
With digital storage, it doesn’t take up any more physical space to store a thousand photos vs. ten photos and sorting through them is fairly easy. But while most of this applies to physical pictures, many of these reasons still apply to both formats.
This is less relevant to photo hobbyists, professionals, and enthusiasts – as pictures are more than just instant memories to them. But for everyone else, we need to decide the best way to use them. I’m not saying my way is THE way – but this is my opinion on the role of pictures in our lives.
My view of pictures? We take too many. We keep too many.
Here are six reasons:
1. Enjoy The Moment
I’ve seen it too many times. You’re on top of the world with a breath-taking view – and out come the cameras. People are snapping all kinds of photos from different angles, trying to get the perfect one. Why?
I understand the idea of a picture is to capture the moment, but if the moment is spent taking pictures, then someone can take a picture of you taking pictures to capture the moment. Instead of looking through a tiny viewfinder or LCD screen, we can take in the beauty through ultra high-definition eyes. Cameras make it possible to go on a trip and be absent.
I know this is true because I’ve done it myself. The more pictures I take, the less present I am. A camera requires your complete focus to use. I don’t suggest giving up photography – I suggest taking a close look at how your camera affects your enjoyment and involvement in trips.
We do it to have great pictures of the moment… to relive it later. But is reliving the past actually something you want to do?
2. Let The Past Go
If pictures exist to relive the moment, then we’d all be better off to have less of them. Hardly anybody believes living in the past is healthy, but pictures seem to be an acceptable form of this.
Before you call me a heartless anti-picture fiend, you should know that I struggle with crippling nostalgia because I loved my childhood. I look back at some of those memories and experience such strong emotions that I don’t know what to do with myself. No matter how often I revisit these, I don’t find relief. It only gets worse. I wonder then, is it wise to continue teasing myself with a past I’ll never experience again?
Might it be better to nod briefly at the past and focus fully on making the present even better? I think so, and pictures don’t help! I’m torn on this, but having fewer pictures is the one solution that seems win-win. I’m not completely forgetting the past, but I’m not dwelling on it either.
3. How Often Do You Look At Them?
Ok, say you disagree with point number two and believe it is a great idea to frequently look at pictures of the past. How often do you pull out the photo album and look at it? Like me, it might be very rare.
It was only recently that I was able to admit the photos I had stored in my “personal bin” held no real value. I never looked at them and even when I did, they just made me somewhat emotional. They didn’t add value to my life or help me to live better – they took me back to a time in my life that is gone. Forever. They can’t bring those days back.
Pictures are of course among the most sentimental possessions in the world and very difficult to get rid of. The four photos I have left are “landmark” photos that represent people and a time in my life that means something to me. They are the cream of the crop.
4. How Many Is Enough?
If you have 18 pictures of your dog, what differentiates them so much that you need to keep all of them? Why not pick your favorite one or two or five and toss the rest? Your favorite picture is the one that will encapsulate your dog’s personality the most and be the most impactful.
As you age, do you plan to continue to accumulate thousands of pictures? At what point will you have enough to satisfy you? At what point will you have more pictures than you can manage?
5. The More Pictures You Have, The Less Valuable They Are
If you disagree strongly to this point and are very sentimental about pictures, consider that less is more. The four pictures I have are now much more valuable and important than the couple hundred or so I had before. With thousands or hundreds of pictures, your best ones will be buried behind many forgettable pictures.
Consider trimming your picture collection (physical and digital) by saving only the very best ones. Then when you look through pictures, you won’t be flipping pages rapidly – you’ll be pausing and admiring each one.
6. The Picture Is Not The Person
A picture of someone is not equivalent to that person. It is a piece of paper. To put a great deal of value in the picture is insulting to the person. Again, it’s a piece of paper.
I remember everyone I had a picture of just fine. I value them and recognize their value is not as fragile as a piece of paper. If you had a house fire and the pictures burned, would it decrease the value of the people in the pictures you had? Of course not, because the pictures themselves are not valuable – they point to someone valuable.
There is no reason to feel guilty about throwing pictures away. Especially if pictures are cluttering up your life. Always remember where the value is.
The Best Reason To Keep Them
Arguably, the best purpose of pictures is to show others a scene or moment. Maybe this is why we take them – we want to show our lives to others. I know I’ve enjoyed sharing and seeing pictures on facebook.
Photography is undoubtably an incredible invention that has changed the world. Pictures make us laugh, cry, and smile. They bring us to places we’ve never seen in person. They open our eyes to new things.
What is the best way to go about taking, storing, keeping, and using them? That’s up to each individual, but the wrong answer is to not think about it at all.
What are your thoughts on pictures? What do they mean to you? How do you like to use them?