A couple more photos from the “archive”. I still haven’t heard about my camera. Today marks three weeks without a decent camera. It’s not a big deal of course but with a bit more time on my hands this month, it would have been nice to have had a camera on hand. Oh well, such is life. Let’s face it, it’s not exactly a real problem in the scheme of things.
There are a number of conversation topics that arise when photographers get together; from the boring (pros & cons of gear) to the fascinating (the craft of making photographs) [Note: topics are classified as per my opinion only]. One topic that was made popular by the digital age (though I remember discussing this in the days of film too), is the subject of storing and backing up our work (my last post generated a few conversations on the topic too). I place that topic in the boring category but I understand only too well the pain that people go through when they lose their cherished photographs and I am only too happy to help put together backup strategies when asked. Funny thing is, I don’t put any of it in practice for myself. Why? Well it’s complicated but I can assure your it wasn’t always the case.
Many years ago, during my travelling years when my wife and I made our way around the world over a four-year stint, I went around with two SLR cameras (one loaded with colour film and one with black and white), a tripod, five lenses, two flash guns and a bunch of filters. What I am trying to say is that back then I was a really serious photographer. I took it all earnestly and studiously, almost religiously you might say. At least as I remember it. Not like now. In comparison I am a rank amateur these days. Or worse since I am as happy to make photos with a crappy phone as I am with a SLR.
I am not sure how many rolls of film I shot during that period of my life but it would have been hundreds for sure and I was meticulous about storing the negatives and the photos. It was easier to get my photos developed as I went because I didn’t want to risk putting my film through x-ray machines at airports. My lead-lined bag could only hold 25 rolls. Of course, after a while, it was equally difficult to move around with a backpack half-full of negatives and 6×4 photos. Not to mention the risk of losing the bag and all our photographic mementos. So occasionally we would ship some home or store them with friends. When we finally got back home I started going through them all, sorting and putting them into special albums with pages made of special (and expensive) paper that would not react adversely with the photos. All the negatives went into special sleeves too. All carefully indexed. It was all done with much care and great effort; the whole thing taking months of regular nightly sessions to complete. I remember being quite content when I placed the last photo in the last album.
And I have hardly looked at them since.
In fact the first time I looked at them again (a couple of years later) was when a friend asked me if I had been to Ireland. Indeed I had and it was easily one of the best places we’d visited, in the top 3 actually. For weeks we toured the entire country, Northern Ireland included, and no other place had enchanted us quite as much as this wee country had. My friend asked if he could see some photos and I was only too happy to oblige. Trouble was, as I looked for the album titled “Ireland” it began to dawn on me that I didn’t remember putting together an album called “Ireland”. And it wasn’t long before I realised that there was in fact, no album called “Ireland”. Worse still, there was no folder of negatives marked “Ireland” either. We had lost every photo taken during our stay in Ireland. The packages (we sent the negatives separately to the printed photos) had been lost obviously but how could both packages get lost? It took a while for this to register but eventually I was forced to face the grim reality that I would never see those photos again. It was devastating. Those photos were easily the best I had taken over the entire four years. The light in Ireland was always so perfect that every photo always seemed to turn out perfectly. I don’t remember if I cried but I may well have.
A few days later, still upset, I found myself wondering why I was so distraught by this turn of events. After all, before finding out that we had lost the Ireland photos, I was quite fine and unperturbed, and if it hadn’t been for my friend asking to see the photos I would probably still be none the wiser. While I couldn’t deny that I was upset, I couldn’t understand why. I understand that to most people the “why” is obvious but my brain doesn’t work like that. It wasn’t obvious to me as to why I should be so upset. It didn’t make sense that I should be so distressed about losing something that had been lost years before. The fact that I had only just found out about it didn’t seem like a good enough reason to me.
Ten or so years later, the loss of the Ireland photos long forgotten, I was clearing out a pile of boxes when I came across a couple of shoe-boxes that looked strangely familiar. I opened one and there, stacked neatly and in order of date-taken, were all the Ireland photographs. The second box contained the negatives. Somehow they had been overlooked. I was so thrilled, so excited; at least right up until I started to go through the photos one by one. They were rubbish. How did I ever imagine that these photos were any good? The composition was all wrong, the highlights weren’t exactly burnt out but much too bright and the subject matter… what was I thinking!?!
Over time I realised that it wasn’t that the Ireland photos were all that bad but rather that my tastes had changed. It was likely that my skill had improved as well but it was quite clear that I no longer conceived photographs in the same way. By coincidence, it was also around this time that I was starting to realise that the importance I had always attached to photographs had been misplaced. Photography was starting to shift from being an act of making photos to a simple act of seeing. As such, the attachment to my photographs has been diminishing to the point where I no longer feel the need to safeguard them.
However, to allay the fears of any worried readers, let me say that I will (in the very near future) be taking steps to back-up my photographs. Not because of a change of heart on my part where the photographs are concerned but because in recent times I have had requests for some of my photos and I have come to recognise that my photos can still be important to someone else even if they hold less significance for me. And that, I readily admit, is something I sincerely appreciate.