I recently joined a Facebook group which chronicles people’s memories of the town in which we live. It’s been fascinating. Many of the members are now in their sixties and seventies and there are a few in their eighties. Whatever age, one thing that many of us have in common is that we all have copious quantibties of old photographs of the town as it was in times past before the road system changed, before the shopping centre was built and before the farms and old communities were flattened to build housing estates. As well as these there are pictures posted of school classes, football teams, works outings, street parties and so much more. ‘Who remembers when the Queen visited in the 60s?’ someone will ask and a dozen others will post their relevant photographs along with their recollections of the day. My class photograph of 1967 elicited responses from many of those pictured. The group has brought families together, revived old friendships and prompted memories long forgotten. I can imagine people climbing up into their lofts to bring down boxes full of long forgotten photos taken by their parents and kept just because it never seems right to throw them out. It’s been fun and it’s got me thinking about how important old photographs are – not only in terms of social history but as a personal record of our lives to be passed on to our children and grandchildren.
Who hasn’t spent a couple of happy hours looking at several generations worth of family photographs? Laughing at the clothes we wore, holding our hands up in horror at the hairstyles we sported or getting misty-eyed over the memories that the pictures of our children evoke. Asking ‘who was that?’, or ‘what happened to her?’ and of course ‘do you remember when…’ And how about suddenly noticing a family resemblance, perhaps realising that the newest member of the family has exactly the same dimples as Great Grandma when she was a child.
Maybe your oldest photographs are in albums, cherished moments preserved for posterity. Or perhaps you keep them in a shoe box. Either way, I’ll bet you have loads more older ones than recent. My albums come to an abrupt halt about five years ago. I insist on a few printed copies of my children and grandchildren and these are displayed on my photo wall and changed as the subjects grow older but that’s it. And the reason for this – digital images.
Many of us have photos of special occasions stored on social media sites like Pinterest, intstagram or Facebook, or perhaps we use Dropbox. It’s great to be able to view our pictures them without paying out for printing, to see them large and clear on a screen and to be able to share them with others at the press of a button but what about after we’ve gone? Who’s going to be able to see them then? Have you arranged for someone to access all your family photographic memories – given them your passwords? I know I haven’t.
Will they even last that long? I discovered the other day that the memory on my i.pad, where I store a great many of my own photos, is almost full. What now – do I start to delete the oldest ones – happy memories lost forever? Do I download them to some other form of storage? Maybe you feel secure in the knowledge that your digital images are carefully saved onto memory cards or DVDs that you can load up at will at any time in the future. Really? Remember floppy disks? How many photos were saved onto these but are no longer accessible because the only computer you have today plays DVDs. What’s going to happen in a few years time when these and memory sticks become obsolete? And they will. Technology moves on at an alarming pace. How many people still have a vhs? Once upon a time, not so very long ago we couldn’t have imagined that all those bulky box sets we owned would be useless and that we’d have to re-buy our favourites in a later format. How many old mobile phones already languish in drawers with some of life’s happiest moments relegated forever to darkness?
I fear that a whole generation will miss out on the wonderful experience of discovering a box of old photographs that they’ve never seen or have forgotten about. Almost every one has a mobile phone with a camera nowadays. They snap away with abandon taking more photos than we ever did when all we had was a film camera and had to pay for processing. Do you remember the exciting anticipation of picking up your holiday photographs? Until that moment when you opened the packet you had no idea which whether they’d be a huge success or a dire disappointment.
Do you have a pictorial record of your children when they were growing up. I do but I wonder whether my children have thought about this where their own offspring are concerned. There ‘s the odd posed school photo, of course, but what about those happy holiday memories, the weddings, the birthdays? All those hundreds of pictures you have stored on Facebook – do you really believe that you or your children will be able to look back on those in twenty, thirty years time? If so, then you do it at your peril.
Trueprint offer standard 6×4 prints for just a few pence each and with discounts for larger orders. Other companies will offer similar deals. I’ve started adding my favourites to a file and will be sending off an order for around 200 prints soon. I probably wont get round to putting them all in an album but there’s a spare shoe box sitting on a shelf and one day when my great- grandchildren want to look back at their ancestors, some of those pictures will hopefully have survived.