Photographic Memory 2.0

Along with the zillions of other things that computers have changed and redesigned in our lives, one of the most pervasive is the art of the photograph. Once upon a time, the process of taking, developing, labeling and archiving photos was a labor-intensive and tactile process. There was some mystery to it all – we didn’t know how the photos would turn out, whether we’d have memorable shots of meaningful events or dozens of blurry, useless pictures that we’d wasted our money having developed, leaving us with only our mind’s eye to remember what we hoped to see in pictures for years to come.

Everyone knows someone who had a wedding that wasn’t photographed well, or a newborn baby that was unfortunately not memorialized because someone forgot to take off the lens cap. Digital cameras have revolutionized photography. Anyone with a minimal amount of computer skills can take, upload, crop, red-eye reduce, and otherwise manage their photos. There is no longer the wait for the developing, no negatives to bother with, no wasted money on shots of the backs of people’s heads.

If at first, I was resistant, having amassed a large collection of photo albums filled with pictures I cherished and paged through often, I am now a complete devotee of the digital picture.

There is a downside to all of this instant access, though. After uploading and transferring all of my photos from my pc to my iMac, I began to use the face recognition tool, which allows me to quickly identify the people in each picture. It’s a very convenient process and makes labeling photos not only easy but fun. However, after a while, I began to feel a sense of anxiety that I couldn’t quite identify at first. Was I staring at the computer screen too much? Did I misspell a name or two? No, what I finally realized was that along with the ease of looking at, identifying and cataloging the photos, the years of my life were flying by me at far too rapid a pace. I don’t mean my actual life – though that’s moving pretty quickly also – I mean the photos and the history and the moments that they represent.

I saw my children grow up in virtually hours, as I tagged them over and over in picture after picture. I saw my face morph from a young bride to a middle-aged mother of two adults. I was indignant that the iPhoto program didn’t recognize me in my wedding pictures…have I changed that much? Yes, I guess I have, but I don’t need to be reminded of it. I watched as my son was confused with my brother time and time again by the iPhoto tagger, which didn’t surprise me at all – the family resemblance is fairly strong. My daughter was unrecognizable as a middle schooler to the iPhoto program – she has also changed quite a bit since then. However, my husband was pretty much always recognized. Why is that? Is it the hair? Because that just doesn’t seem fair to me.

As I watched my life flashing before my eyes – literally – I saw the evolution of my family, my friends, and my home. Changes in decor, including furniture, paint color, accessories, and a completely new kitchen flew by. My face looked stressed and tired during the years that my father was ill, and I aged quite a bit in my forties, as I guess we all do. I saw my mother grow to resemble my grandmother far more than I’d ever noticed before.

Our friends changed and grew older, too – men lost their hair, while women changed their hair color – a lot. Fashion, of course, evolved – there’s nothing quite like a pair of mom jeans to define the early 90’s. I have literally hundreds of pictures of my children, and I still have hundreds of more prints of them and so many other people to scan into the computer, and it’s going to take me a while to get it all done. But that’s fine because  I don’t want to be finished with this project anytime soon. Once I’ve completed all of the scanning, labeling, tagging and archiving, those photos will be saved and safe, which is the goal, of course – but as sentimental and, yes, sometimes melancholy as it makes me, the process is a chance to remember, to reflect, and, maybe most important of all, red-eye reduce.

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  • hahahaha! I so agree Sharon. I too have an imac so it’s easy to put all our scanned photos in and do the “face recognition” as well. It is fun, and at the same time sobering! I look a lot like my mom so she and I show up a lot together. But what’s funny is who else shows up looking like me too. It is definitely a trip down memory lane and bittersweet in so many ways. Of course the good news is that we will be able to empty our bookcases and cupboards with all those old albums and fill them with books! ~Kathy

  • I know what you mean about seeing who looks like whom in pictures. That is funny that the face recognition gets confused.
    I do and I don’t miss the old photo albums. Dragging them down and hoping to get the right year is still kind of fun. The red eye correction now with scanning is great, less werewolves in the family!

  • Oh wow…yes, you are on to something here. Technology is wonderful..but there is a price for everything. It is bittersweet to be able to see so much at once.

    The red eye thing is a godsend, though.

  • such a great project! i really need to get on that as well. but like you, i love looking back and could laze away teary eyed hours! I guess you reduce the red eye while making some red eyes of your own! .

  • Laurie Sotro

    Hi Sharon, love you and your website and totally get what you’re saying, but wanted to chime in on this one. 🙂 Yes, photo technology is great and I too have it all on my Mac and love that I don’t waste time and money on pictures that need developing. But there is definitely something to be said and felt about sitting down together with family and loved ones and looking through actual photos and albums. My parent’s photos were never organized, they were in a big pile in a box. But oh, how sacred that box was!!! As my children were growing they loved to sit together and get out the “box” and learn about their family history. We didn’t need or want a computer to tell us about facial recognition, we learned it for ourselves and saw the subtle differences/changes overs the years but still recognized the twinkle in someone’s eyes or their mischievous grin. Society is already on the verge of losing pen and paper for words, will we lose the paper photo also? I have photos that are over 100 years old and they have withstood the test of time. Will today’s current photo technology be around in 100 years? Probably not, but I’m sure people think there will be something better…..well I think it doesn’t get any better than a paper photo. 🙂 My daughter is a professional wedding and lifestyle photographer and on her website she wrote a blog entitled, “Committed to Paper”. She’s dedicated to preserving the “good old-fashioned” printed photo. Young couples don’t want to bother with prints and albums, but my daughter gives it to them anyway in the hopes that one day they share the same special times (she so fondly remembers) with their children looking at mommy and daddy’s wedding day. And not by swiping through a computer screen but lingering over a beautiful album. 🙂

    • Sharon Greenthal

      I agree with you about the printed photos – there were many precious hours I spent with my grandmother poring over her collection of family photos! And I did that with my kids, too – that’s how they learned who all of the relatives are who they will never get to meet. I have saved all of the printed images – but I’m glad to have them preserved on my computer (and the backup).

  • Yes digital cameras have change things so much I love that you can take photo and can see what has been taken in minutes if you wish and not have to wait around for ages to get the prints back and then find half of what you took suck. What I don’t get is that some people take a lot of photos and print none of them photos are to be seen other wise what is the point in taking them

  • Maria Soles

    Remember the days when everyone was doing scrapbooking and some moms were way more into it than others? The albums they put together were absolutely amazing. I think it was called Creative Memories? I’m thinking they’re still around. I love how now some photo apps give us the ability to do all that digitally, and doing a digital album through Costco, Shutterfly, etc. is so nice and easy for all of us to do that don’t have those creative genes but still want pics on paper.

  • I agree with this so much! We have been going through pictures for months now and I know I need to keep going to get this project finally finished. I have taken a break. I go from my daughter’s baby pictures then to her babies pictures and it just seems to much. Where did it all go? Mom jeans, bad perms, shoulder pads, big hair it’s like visiting old friends and then suddenly you realize that you are so much older and it’s time for a break. I might be finished by 2020!

  • I appreciated these thoughtful observations of yourself through the years. It is amazing to be this age and be able to look back on all those stages. Thanks for making my early morning hours.

  • I need to take on this project too, but I’m dragging my feet. As much as I love to look at old photographs, I find it painful too. I’m still in denial that this parenting phase is over.

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