Matt Marshall

 

04 Jul 2018, 08:59

Brief reflections on my relationship with photos

As part of my 'leaving behind Google' process, combined with my minimalism journey, I recently exported and curated an entire archive of photographs I've collected. They're mostly concentrated around 2011 -- 2015, but there are a few even back to 2008 from my days doing stage shows and there's another little concecntration more recently from when I finally upgraded my smartphone.

I learned a few things about what I value from this process. I downloaded all the images, imported them into Shotwell to have it automatically sort them by date where it can, and then traipsed through chronologically to sort the wheat from the chaff. it took around two hours, which was a lot longer than expected. The tl;dr version of this is that "I don't need to keep around 90% of the photos I do take", my thoughts behind this are below.

I take a lot of photographs of landscapes and buildings that I don't actually care about

Whenever I go on an adventure out somewhere like a city, or the cliffs, or an abandoned building, I've almost compulsively took photographs across the day. I say the word compulsively because the impulse to photograph things does not come naturally to me. I was late to the smartphone game and until recently the camera on my phone has been subpar. Since catching up, I've been feeling the need to 'document' my journeys and this has involved taking a lot of photographs of stuff like beautiful landscapes and buildings that I appreciate. Thing is, I don't actually care about these photographs.

Don't get me wrong -- I appreciate a good building or landscape and if you show me photographs you've taken I will absolutely sit and listen and look at the image whole-heartedly. It's just that, once I've sat and appreciated a good view I don't often feel the need to revisit it. I deleted most of my photographs of mountains, sunrises at the beach, and cityscapes. I kept a few, but these were really heavily tied to personal achievements and much more representational of a point in time than anything else.

I care a lot more about people and stories than I do about places and events

Related to above, the photographs I found myself keeping were the ones featuring myself with others. Turns out the people in my life are much more important to me than the fact I've had a day out somewhere, or saw a nice building. Most of my fond memories are tied with visiting friends, or going out on adventures with them. I like spending time alone as well, which is why I deleted a lot of empty landscapes and selfies, but whenever I came across a photograph of myself and a loved one together it was often my favourite photo of that time period.

The same holds true for stories vs events. I don't care so much for a "Visited Niagara Falls" photograph of the falls, I care about a group picture that we took that acts as a prompt for me to tell myself or tell another the story of the creepy food court staffed by probably-ghosts. Sometimes the story is a selfie of me pulling a stupid face atop a mountain. But yeah -- I kept all the photographs of myself and others doing stuff.

I prefer it when others take photographs of me

I'm not a particularly good photographer, although sometimes modern cameras can compensate for that. I've grown accustomed to selfies but I'm still not overly comfortable with them and for that reason I prefer it when others take photographs of me. That way I have documentation of myself from another's perspective. It also makes me feel valued that they'd consider taking a photograph of me.

Also, and this is no small part, it means I get a photograph of a story without having to deal with all the other photographs in another person's collection.

Most of my photos are purely utilitarian

Around 80% of my photographs are taken for a single-use, disposable purpose (is there a comparison with one-use plastics there?). Most of the time that purpose is "Hey look at the thing!". Since I quit Facebook, it's been less about sharing to the masses and more about messaging specific people about a thing I want to show them. Stuff like "My lunch is much better than yours" or "Look at this thing I've just spotted on the street". It's like picture messaging a la snapchat but because I don't actually use snapchat, the image sticks around on my phone and makes its way into my collection when imported.

I can live in the moment a lot more

I mentioned earlier than I take a lot of photographs of beautiful scenery. I've somehow associated appreciating something beautiful with archiving it. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, but I've just expended energy taking the photo only to never look at it and then expend more energy deleting it later.

What I'm taking from this is that I can take that energy and transfer it into experiencing the moment a lot more. I already do appreciate a good scene-as-it-happens, but if I walk in with the knowledge that I don't need to take a photograph of it, I think I'll be more inclined to appreciate it.

I need a photo mode that allows me to share-and-forget

I need a mode in apps and cameras that allow me to take a photograph to show people a thing, on various platforms/services, and then instantly delete the local copy of the photo so it never makes its way to a collection. If anyone knows an app like this, please let me know.

reflection minimalism data curation photography values