Recently I was sorting through a box of miscellany and discovered a collection of a complete stranger’s family photos going back to about 1945. I volunteer at a Habitat for Humanity Restore, and we receive all sorts of things as donations. Although the focus is on reusable appliances, light fixtures, and renovation materials, sometimes people drop off things that are not directly relevant to the store. We looked at these photographs with interest, tried to determine if we knew anyone in the pictures, then debated what we should do with them. We could not sell them, and we didn’t want to save them, but it seemed wrong to toss them into the trash bin.
By coincidence, this week I had a conversation with a family member about his large collection of photographic slides. He had started to digitize them, but it’s a long and boring process and the effort had ground to a halt. We wondered what would be the best way to sort and save them for posterity. Today, I read a blog post by someone who has been saving his family’s VHS tapes on to DVD’s, knowing that the technology is already moving on from that medium. It seemed to him both necessary and futile at the same time; a Sisyphean struggle.
We all now have more images than we know what to do with. When photos were taken rarely, we saved them in albums. Now they are taken multiple times in a week, and we love to see them on our computers, on our friends’ Facebook pages, and on our phones. They make us smile and remember people, places, and events. Today, though, I realized that our collections are becoming a burden.
As I get older, I wonder what will happen to my pictures after I’ve gone. I’ve digitized some old slides and given them to my children on DVD’s, and I have passed on some copies of old photographs, but my collection is, essentially, only mine. At some point someone will have to decide what to do with it, and they won’t be able to bring themselves to throw the images away. They will probably end up on an office desk in a recycling store, waiting to become irrelevant.