Fordyce Maxwell: Digital cameras have led to an exponential increase of family photographs

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A THOUGHT struck me the other day – not too rare an occurrence, but worth noting when it happens – as I adjusted family photographs on the living room mantelpiece and bookcase.

I confirmed it later by leafing through the albums, skimming packets of prints to be filed or binned as this year’s shorten-the-winter project, and calling up iPhoto on the Mac to see if the number stored there had reached 10,000.

The thought was that in our first two years or so together the only extant photographs of myself and Liz were taken at our DIY wedding as a present by Hamish Campbell, a friend and Scotsman photographer.

Very good they are too, but we did quite a lot of other things in those first two years of which there is no pictorial record. There aren’t many in the next few years on the farm either, of us, or Susie, Jacqueline and Tom.

The few exceptions give the impression that it was always winter and deep snow, an impression incidentally that Liz refuses to give up. Watching a documentary on Lapland during one of those Northumberland farm years, reference was made to “an eight-month winter” and she remarked, “Just like here,” while throwing another log on with unnecessary vigour.

A Christmas present Instamatic increased the photographic output over the years towards a respectable total, but what my thought really confirmed was the exponential increase of family photographs since we got a digital camera.

The coincidental arrival 
of grandchildren has also contributed to the button-happiness, but digital is the main cause in spite of my compulsion to delete frequently and often. For instance, no matter how many I deleted nightly during our US holiday this summer, we still came home with more than 600 images.

Six hundred? I doubt if we took 600 photos in our first 30 years together. My thought, on which I might well be outvoted at the next family forum is whether that lack of photos is a bad thing.

We have our memories, many still vivid. The relatively few photographs we took in the early years have great significance. Will the several thousand we’ve taken and stored much more recently have the same significance?

When digital cameras, mobile phones, computer storage and more technology than I can handle record almost every waking moment for some, what will be the significance of one captured moment when a cheap conventional camera worked without blurring, shadowing or cutting a head off?

I think I might just know the answer. «

Twitter: @fordycemaxwell