I’m finally approaching the project I’ve been thinking about for years:
Digitizing all of our family photos.
Not just a few images selected and scanned for a slideshow of celebration (which were culled in 2002, 2007, 2009, and 2014, for each of us, respectively). Every photo. I’m not certain exactly how many images it will be in total. We stopped shooting film around 2002, so it’s about two full decades of printed images, plus all of the inherited photos from the long before. Probably less than ten thousand, if I had to take a guess. In contrast, there are over ten thousand images on my phone from the last three and a half years alone.
Last night when I’d pulled the last album out of the drawer and flipped it open, I recognized some of the people but not all of them. It was from my mother’s first marriage. Her annotations and living memories seemed like they were worth capturing, too. My own past has begun to recede in unexpected ways, and so I imagined for her, too, how disorienting it might be to look at a collection from what could have been an entirely different life.
“Does it feel like forty years ago?” I asked. But that wasn’t my actual question. What I wanted to ask was “What did forty years even feel like? Does it still seem like it happened? Like that was you?” Because it was starting to feel like memory and the passage of time, in the bigger denominations, was eventually logarithmic.
On the surface, the project is simply an attempt at preservation of what arguably is the one irreplaceable collection of stories and history. It’s work against the entropy of the universe. An entropy which split albums apart, organized and disorganized collections of prints into various envelopes and boxes, and deconstructs. To bring everything back together, make digital copies, continuing the passage of the photons into new mediums of transmission, and then move the collection off of the property and into a storage unit would be an insurance policy against fires and flooding and chemistry.
Maybe it would be an insurance against the logarithmic recession of time, too.
However, digitization alone isn’t a magic solution. There are a number of problems of storage and organization that I haven’t fully solved yet. Just getting the images onto one digital format with some organization is a start. But when I look back over the remnants of twenty-five years of technology, in the same glancing recovery I’m looking over these albums, there’s a problem I don’t know if I (or some future generation) can avoid. Any computer eventually becomes outdated an inoperable in a comprehensive fashion, and any cloud storage service is unlikely to survive even ten or fifteen years. Digital collections, while more nimble, are much less reliable.
The printed images of my grandfather from his childhood seemed much more stable than any image on any computer I’d had, or scanned, or made. Those were spread out on a number of hard drives missing power cables or and requiring a set of skills and tools and technology far greater and more complicated than a set of eyes and hands and boxes to uncover.