Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Photographs and Memories

Something awful happened yesterday. Not awful in the sense of life threatening or earth-shattering but awful in my son's world. He accidentally deleted a few years worth of images and videos from our digital camera.

He was devastated.

No matter how much I assured him that we had other videos, other pictures I couldn't really reassure him that all the events captured within this one camera were captured by others. He felt like a part of his past had been deleted as well and he could never retrieve it again.

My son's generation has had almost every moment of their entire lives captured on camera You'd think with so much footage this deletion wouldn't have been a big deal. But for The Boy, having his personal history and memories there in a physical form - in some way - is reassuring. It made me wonder: has our reliance on pictures and videos become more important than the family history we share verbally?

I have some photos of my childhood. An average number I guess. Not so many when I was first born and those photos are certainly precious to me. But it is the stories told to me by my parents that are more important. Luckily those can't be erased so easily (let's hope my brain keeps them for as long as possible anyway!)But the incident yesterday made me think hard about the role pictures have in our lives. In fact, one of the themes in THE BREAK has to do with how photos can help release memory and connect people. But by themselves, without memory to help tell the story, the photographs eventually mean nothing. Here's an example.

My husband inherited a very old family photo album from his father who had it handed down from some cousin or another and none of those pictures or the people in them mean anything to us. Even if those photos had captions saying who they were it wouldn't mean much to me because there wasn't a story - a memory behind the photo - that had been told to or written down for us.

So, I understand The Boy's sadness at the loss of all those pictures and the stories behind them. But, as I told him last night, what's more important are the memories you keep inside you - not on some digital camera. Still, it never hurts to download a camera a little more often. :)


  1. Great post.

    I'm ambivalent about cameras. They're great for recording an event, or a momentous occasion, but it seems to me that documenting every single piece of our lives pictorially somehow diminishes the experience. It keeps you from participating fully, and really being present in the...well, present. Seems like we sometimes turn what we do into memories so fast--via an ever-present camera--that our actions are never anything BUT memories.

    Or maybe I'm just a luddite. *grin*

  2. Ouch. So sorry about the whoops-delete.

    I had similar reflections when I realized I was thinking of the gorgeous views as post-cards, not as spaces to be present in.

    Thanks for another great post.

  3. Hi Linda: I don't think you're a luddite :) I think more people should be like you and try living in the present more often. You'd think The Boy since he's, well, a boy, would do that naturally!

    Hi Mirka: Thanks for the sympathies! And, you're right. Thinking of life and whether it would make a good Facebook post/picture isn't the way to live it!