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Trying to remember
It's all specifically Sketchy
10 March 2020 . 6min read

50,555 & 1,499. That's the number of photos & videos that I have taken, not including 20 years of analogue snaps and film.

I'm not someone who takes a lot of photos, but obviously I do apparently take slightly more than some.

The reason I know those numbers, which I know look numerically lovely but which I can promise you are actual, is because of some recent archiving.

A couple of years back, I noticed I seem to have developed a problem in remembering photos. I mean, I can recall images and photos. I just can't seem to place them in a coherent timeline. For example, I have a fantastically clear image in my mind of the ancient woodlands near me. Absolutely no idea from when that was. Nope, not a dicky-bird. I don't think it was this year, but other than that... nothing. I'm not overly worried about it; the specific time something was taken is less important than the image itself.

It's like there are all these things in my head. Some are slowly floating along, others are racing along, but none of them seem to be linked. Sure, I can sometimes use some deductive reasoning to work it out, but it's not always obvious.

One of the delightful side effects of this is that I can never find anything. I have an extremely clear memory of holding it in my hand, but I have no idea whether that was last month or 20 years ago. So, I have a boatload of stuff that I know I own, but I have absolutely no idea where. Before you start to worry on my behalf, I have long since moved past the stage of worry. I'm now on the stage of shrug-laughter about it.

Anyway, let's pull this train of thought back to those numbers.

A couple of years ago, I determined I should attempt to pull all the digital images & videos I had taken into something kind of archive. Part of it was driven by my lack of capacity to remember where the heck they were. Part of it was that I knew some of the devices they were on were getting to the end of their life. I had also recently found a small stack of SD cards that I assumed were empty, only to discover that they had photos on. It was time to take action.

So, I purchased a 3 terabyte (read: big) hard disk, and started copying them all onto that. I optimistically labelled the folder "Photos ALL", and started copying. My vague plan was to get everything in one place, then worry about what I was going to do with it all later.

It took ages to find them all, then copy. I've lost count the number of old Nokia phones I've had to charge, then start, then inspect, then workout how to get the 15 photos off of the old device. I wasn't really taking note of the numbers, just blindly copying into the folder.

The total in that particular folder currently stands at 36,824 and covers 20 years. That obviously doesn't include the 13,731 living in Apple's photo ecosystem.

Fab. Now what?

I didn't much fancy preview all those, one by one, so figured the best approach was to organise them into year-month groups. I didn't much fancy doing that either. So, I wrote some clever(ish) computer-thingy to do it for me. It didn't really help.

OK, on a positive note, it was all being backed up now and was lovely and safe. I had an urge, or perhaps an obligation, to take some time to actually look at them.

How do you even do that? If I took just 5 seconds to look at a photo, and I did that continuously for 3 hours a day, it would take me over 23 days. I didn't much fancy that either.

Why then was I bothering? Why did I feel an overwhelming urge to keep them all safe?

I've been over-thinking this for some time. I think it is something to do with identity. As we take photos of things, places, people, ourselves, it creates a storybook in our minds. In some curious way, it seems to provide some kind of self-identity. Sure, it's not the only thing that does that, but it is certainly part of that internal process. If that is the case, then there is a worry that if we lose those images, then we will lose something of our storybook; losing a bit of our identity.

I have feelings when I randomly look at photos I've taken. Sometimes positive, sometimes not; that feeling, though, is very real.

I can't quite put my finger on whether it's the actual image itself, or it is the memory of what I was feeling at the time. Is the image itself the magic, or is that image just the mental nudge required to recall the memory of the feeling?

Either way, it cemented the notion that I should attempt to do something with these 50 thousand photos. Should I just print them all out? I know that sounds crazy, but at least I would have a physical backup of them all. OK, a pack of 100 sheets of glossy photo paper 6 by 4 inches, is 7. 50555 divided by 100 multiplied by 7 ... 3538 and 85 pence. Erm no thank you.

Perhaps I should just be happy with the fact they are not lost. I should be happy, but it just doesn't cut it. I want more; I want to remember and re-experience all those times.

Dear reader, If you were expecting some kind of magical answer, that you could also apply to your own stack of digital imagery, then you will be disappointed. I just don't think there is a simple answer to this.

What I do think, though, is that perhaps I'm approaching this from the wrong angle. Perhaps I shouldn't be looking at the actual photos. As I think back to the times of Cine-film and Slides of yesteryear, there was a strong theatrical element to it. It was a real pantomime getting it all setup, then mucking around with the curtains, and the lighting. Then making sure that grandma with the dodgy knee could see the screen. Then making sure that everyone had a drink. Then finally looking at the images. Then talking about them, then going backwards to look at some again.

It was as much about the process of looking at the images as the images themselves.

So, I've made a decision. I'm going to get myself a nice drink, make myself comfortable, turn off the internet, take off my watch, put my phone on silent, then ... Then I'm going to flick through each and every photo. It will take as long as it takes. I will just enjoy the process as well as the images.

I've come to the conclusion that sometimes you just need to accept that the journey is just as important as the destination ...

Just glance down. Look at the life you are stepping over...


Profile photo of Nigel Derbyshire

I'm a carbon-unit who writes; a Carbon Writer. Life & culture are my default topics, mixed with a little English wit & sarcasm. Full of mostly true stories, I occasionally remember to write them down. Found in a crowd, or contemplating in a corner. Habit of talking to anyone. Author.
- Nigel Derbyshire