Tucked in a far corner of my dining room (just beyond where anyone spontaneously stopping by can see), is a mish mashed pile of pictures that call to me on a daily basis. I probably wouldn’t feel so bad, so guilty, if it were the only pile. However, there’s another fat envelope of special events and fabulous smiles in a kitchen drawer...and boxes of chromogenic prints heaped so precariously and monumentally on top of one another in the spare bedroom closet, my family and I have deemed it the “Leaning Tower of Pictures". (Don’t even get me started on the hundreds on our computer and various CDs; I shutter at the thought. Sorry...that pun was too good to ignore!) Each box ticks off another year or milestone, holding treasured memories we never want to lose.
Okay, so it’s time for a reality check: Unless I take control now, not only will the piles continue to accumulate with the passing of every future milestone, the majority of the dust-covered lot will one day end up usurping space in the back of someone else’s closet (or, to my complete horror—decomposing in a landfill).
Somehow, I doubt I’m the only one with serious “photo guilt”—that haunting, nagging feeling that your pictures may never see the light of day. In this age of point-n-click technology, most of us have more photos than we need or know how to handle. Fortunately, I’ve found there is light (more like a blinding flash) at the end of the wide angle lens. Below, are six steps to help you get over your photo guilt, silencing those boxes, once and for all.
1) Hunt and Gather. Most people get “stuck” just looking at all those intimidating, picturesque mountains from afar. I say, it’s time to show those photos who is boss! Once you get them all into a central location (one big enough to spread out and be comfortable working in), you’ll find that you will not only enjoy revisiting your priceless memories, but that feeling of finally being “proactive” will propel you on to the next step, which is…
2) Sorting the stacks. Once you have the pictures gathered in one location, you have two, sorting options:
3) Throw out redundancy. You weed your garden—why not old photos? Become comfortable with throwing out those redundant or lesser quality shots. Keep only those that truly speak to you and best represent the event, person, or occasion.
4) Save photo negatives. Most experts believe negatives are worth saving, ideally in a fire-proof safe or at a local bank. Do NOT save them with your photos. It may seem like a hassle to take this precautionary measure, but there are three, important reasons for it: 1) Pictures fade (color pictures have a short, 50-year lifespan), 2) they can be easily destroyed; and 3) the quality of reprints or enlargements is significantly higher if taken from a negative.
5) Label. Identifying the “who, what, where, and when” is probably the most daunting part of the process—but it’s essential. As you go through each envelope and/or stack, try to label as many pictures as you can. Whenever possible, include the full names of the people in the picture, the date, and the location. (Trust me, future generations will thank you profusely for taking the guesswork out of the equation!) Please note: Use a special pen made only for this purpose, as a regular pen makes indentions on the front of a photo.
6) Store photos in a safe place. The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration offers the most helpful information I’ve found on proper storage and archival techniques for prints. Check out http://www.archives.gov/preservation/family-archives/storing-photos.html for more information.
If you’ve taken the above steps, congratulations! Your freeze-framed memories can truly be enjoyed with peace-of-mind and clarity. Now that photo guilt has been successfully eradicated, why not let some of your favorite shots leap from the shadows into the limelight? Some options to fully optimize your life in pictures include:
1) Create photo albums. This is a classic way to display pictures that never goes out-of-date. (Although, you may run out of room.) Again, I’ll direct you toward The National Archives for tips on quality album covers and paper, as it does makes a significant difference in the longevity of your photos. Visit http://www.archives.gov/preservation/family-archives/album-types.html for more details.
2) Frame them. No décor touch adds more personality to a home than elegantly framed photos. While scenery shots make great art, those encompassing family and friends (close enough to clearly see their faces) speak straight to the heart. To me, both are easily worth at least a wall or two.
3) Go digital. Scanning photos (saving them onto a computer CD, memory stick, or flash drive) not only allows you to consolidate and back-up your photos, it’s also a great way to show them off. Once scanned, most damaged pictures can be restored to near perfection. Digitizing photos also allows you to display a greater magnitude of shots, through the creation of everything from coffee table books (including captions and stories)…to videos set to music (or recorded interviews)…to online photo albums…to mementos, such as mugs, calendars, mouse pads, digital photo frames….The options are virtually limitless.
If you have time, a little “know-how”, and the right equipment (i.e., computer, scanner, and picture software, like Photoshop), you can certainly scan your pictures yourself. Of course, there are a number of reputable companies that can take the time-consuming task off your hands, offering fast photo-scanning (a service particularly useful when dealing with those voluminous “Leaning Towers”), as well as other methods of photo archiving, preservation, restoration, and clever ways to display your photos. And, I’m happy to share more detailed, photo-related ideas, and help you with every step of the process. (You may also want to consider having WriteLifeStories help you incorporate any number of other, invaluable memoir or keepsake elements into your photo project.) Regardless of how you choose to proceed, I’d simply encourage you to bravely face those haunting boxes. Brush off the dust and dig in. After all, we all had great, picturesque reasons for taking (or inheriting and keeping) those wonderful photos in the first place, right? Now is the time to put those reasons to lasting, guilt-free use.