Culling Photographs

Photographic Trash
Photographic Trash

I’m coming to terms with my slightly obsessive collections of things, and have been forced to make hard choices about what to keep since I moved from a four-bedroom house to a two-bedroom apartment. Right now, the focus is on my collection of photographs.

From the early 1970’s until I went digital in the 2000’s, I took photographs and stored them carefully in albums.  I even kept the transparencies, just in case.  This has meant that I have about twenty very large albums of photographs and no place to put them, so I Googled “storing photos.”  I soon realized I had to specify “photographic prints” to avoid all the advice about digital images.

Some sites recommended scanning the pictures and keeping the digital versions. One site even suggested taking photographs of my photographs, but that seemed much too self-referential. In all these cases, though, the solutions were too time-consuming for the large number of pictures in my collection.  The best answer came from a site that recommended first culling, then storing pictures in boxes. This is what I am currently doing with my time.

One album at a time, I am going through and pulling out the pictures I want to keep. I decided fairly quickly that all the hundreds of beautiful pictures of mountains, rivers, lakes, and trees are not what I want to save. What I am keeping are the pictures of the people.  Sometimes I have to think hard to remember who the people are or whom the babies grew up to become;  I have a large extended family, so there are lots of baby pictures. On the whole, though, it’s fun to reminisce, and I don’t regret tossing out the views of the natural world.

At the back of my mind, I thought that if and when I take up painting again I could use some of these pictures as inspiration, but then I’d have to keep them somewhere.  I’d also have to sort them into paintable and non-paintable images. That would make this task even more burdensome and less likely to get completed than it is already, so I’m going to close my heart to that possibility and just toss the lot.

I can hear your wails of dismay already, but that’s just the way it’s going to be.  The big photo albums and the pictures of the wonders of nature are being assigned to the actual scrap heap of life.  So are pictures of unnamed girl guides, school band members, and the backs of people’s heads. In the gallery of my life, the faces of the people I care about are much more attractive than scenery.


  1. That’s very true, Malcolm. It’s probably a significant source of the stress of moving. On the other hand, it feels good to lighten the load. I haven’t actually finished culling my photographs yet because all that self-examination is quite tiring, It will get done, though. Eventually.

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