Photos in a Shoebox

I was flipping through an online photo account, looking at all of my parents’ childhood photos which family members have, over time, have converted to digital photos for safe-keeping, and it got me thinking…our Grandparents and Great-Grandparents often had only a small bundle of photos and keepsakes to pass on to their children to remember them by. This was before Facebook, the selfie-craze in particular, when one photo could take minutes to take. This one photo, regardless of how it turned out (And how many of them were forever immortalised with scrunched-up faces or dead-serious, disquieting expressions?) was precious. Often it cost the family a lot of money and they only got one shot. If the photo survived the years, moving house, family feuds, housefires, etc., it may have ended up in the hands of some sentimental grand-child, or else it would have long since perished or gotten lost.
With the loss of my Mother three years ago, I started keeping things of hers that I wanted to hang onto to keep her memory alive. Whether for me or, perhaps sub-consciously, for future children – although I am currently very happy as a child-less 30-something! I started to do the same for other members of my family. I did this not in a consciously morbid way, but more in a burst of forward-thinking. It dawned on me that these things are no longer precious. For example, I have thousands of photos, taken throughout my 20s, slightly before, and over the last year or two, of my dwellings, travels, friends, partners…they are stored securely in said online photo account. So long as someone has the password and the desire, after I am gone they can just pop in and nose on through my life’s special moments. I haven’t printed a physical, paper version of a photo in almost a decade. So, this has inspired me to start working on a few classic, real life, photo albums. The idea excites me; this is a sure sign that I should have been doing this all along!
Now, another interesting debate that this sparked between a friend and myself: I realised, while panning through all these photos of the last 12 years of my life, that, quite a few of these photos are of people who have since drifted away or else, in darker moments, done something that has caused me to break away from them. Ex-friends. And ex-partners. So, as I was scrolling through this multitude of photos, selecting which ones I wanted to print hard copies of for the albums, the question that came to mind so, as I paused momentarily over the Select tool, what to do with these captured moments of former friends who, perhaps, left my life on a sad/angry note. There are very few people I still hold onto a bit of anger towards – hey, I’m human! – but does that mean I omit them from the photo diary of that period of my life? However it turned out in the end, that day the photo was taken, in that moment, they meant something to me. We had no idea what lay ahead for our friendship. I suppose it is a lesson in itself to embrace life and take chances with people. Even after a few bumps, when you are feeling battle-scarred, you can look back and see that it wasn’t always bad. Human relationships run their course; the great skill I would like to learn is how to leave them gracefully, with as few bumps as possible. Perhaps the bumps come when you resist the natural life-death cycle of the relationship. And that leaves you with a pile of photos in your hand, wondering what to do next.

How many of Grandma and Grandpa’s old shoebox-collection photos are of people, unbeknownst to us, whose ties of friendship were un-amicably severed in some mysterious drama? More importantly, does it take away from the importance of the photo and the place it holds in that worn-out old shoebox, which could be construed as something more symbolic than a shoebox?

In an age where it costs us nothing to lug around old memories, i.e. store them online, out-of-sight until needed, where has the sentimental value of photos gone, if it still exists at all?

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