“Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph. Preserve your memories; they’re all that’s left you.” — Simon & Garfunkel, “Bookends”
As a Gen X’er, I have lived in a world with typewriters and keyboards; rotary, push-button, wireless, mobile, flip, and smart phones; televisions both B&W and color, tube and flat and now curved; PCs and laptops and notebooks and netbooks and tablets; LPs and eight tracks and cassettes and CDs and iPods and The Cloud. Photographs have gone from instant to 35 mm to digital.
In 1999 I went on a life-long dream vacation to Egypt. I snapped over 500 photos, and developing film was expensive. Back then you didn’t know what you would get; if you asked a stranger to take a photo, you might discover that your head was chopped off when the prints came back. The shots I took sometimes came out blurry, if the subjects were squarely in the frame at all, and eyes often appeared bloodshot and demonic. I know this may be hard for some of you whippersnappers to believe, but there was no way to immediately view the photos you took. As a result, I took a shit-ton* of photographs, not only in 1999, but throughout the 80’s and 90’s and early 2000’s. Those photos were a financial investment, and by golly I wasn’t going to throw any of them away – not even the blurry or beady-eyed or beheaded ones.
In 1999 I had a personal computer at home, but the internet was still a squeaky, squawky, bulky and cumbersome faraway land on 56K dial-up. Photos loaded from top to bottom, one line at a time, usually taking over a minute to produce a single image. Nowadays, if I want to see the Great Pyramids of Giza or the Temple at Luxor, I view images on high-speed internet, taken by professional photographers. Back then, I felt compelled to single-handedly document the entire world and my life in it, one photo at a time.
If you are under the age of 30, I hope I have adequately explained why we older folks have so many damned photos. If you are around my age or older, you already get it. If you are anything like me, you have at least 25 photo albums from the times when you felt particularly organized, and at least three Rubbermaid bins full of loose photos from the other 99 percent of the time. And Lord help you if you have children!
My heap of memories sat in the guest room closet for over 10 years, until I decided to move into an RV. On President’s Day weekend 2015, I developed a plan. These photos did not make the cut:
4. Scenery only (landmarks, architecture, countryside, etc.) with no people
5. People I did not remember
6. Multiple shots of the same scene (“In this one Betty is smiling, but in the other one John’s eyes are a bit squinty …”) New rule: Keep the one where I looked the best!
After extensive weeding, approximately 1,000 photos remained out of 10,000.
I researched photo archiving services, phoning local businesses advertising on Craig’s List. Three companies quoted $.79 per image for digitizing. Whaaaat? Eight hundred bucks to scan some photos? No effing way.
I was thrilled to then find mail-in services on the internet, like scanmyphotos.com, where for a fairly modest flat fee you mail in a box of photos, and they are scanned and returned to you with a disk of the digitized images.
The instructions on these sites are very specific; all photos of a certain size are to be grouped together, facing in a certain direction and face-side up. It was clear to me based on these explicit directions that they use a high-speed document feeder, and therein lay the rub for me. My 25 photo albums were the sticky kind with the clear plastic overlay. It was impossible to remove the glue from the backside of the photos after I pulled them from the albums, and stacking them together made both sides sticky!
That’s when a close friend and some bartering came into play. My friend Darren was interested in one of my mid-century lamps. He was also getting his real estate business off the ground. In exchange for the lamp and for keeping the scanner I purchased for the project, Darren scanned the photos for me. He spent many nights on his sofa, wiping the glue from each photo, scanning them one at a time as he watched television. I loves me some Darren.
Horizontal space is at a premium in an RV; counter tops and tables are small, and there is not a lot of room for much of anything – especially photo frames. All my photos are now on an external hard drive, and I saved about 300 of my favorites, all in landscape mode, to an SD card. That card fits into the slot of this digital frame, which will be my only photo frame in the RV. Every few days I will choose another photo – I prefer static images over busy screen-saver like rotation.
My photos sat in a closet for over a decade. Now, I can enjoy them every day and recall fond memories. Even if you are not moving into a small space, I encourage you to wade through those photos and digitize them. You won’t be sorry. If nothing else you’ll have an endless supply of embarrassment material for your friends and family on Facebook Throw Back Thursdays!
*Tammy’s oft-cited, precise unit of measurement, denoting an inordinately immense amount; equal to one shitload times one metric buttload.