PHOTOGRAPHS can be the most emotive thing. Some long-lost friends from a music summer camp I attended as a teenager (Yeah, yeah, I was a band camp geek. And, yes, I did play the flute…) recently resurfaced on Facebook and started posting pictures of our 1990s antics.
The pictures themselves were horrific. Shapeless, sludgy-coloured T-shirts, unflattering jeans (this was pre even the creation of the bootcut, never mind the skinny), nerdy wire glasses and strange poses of us all clutching our chins and shouting some long-forgotten in-joke catchphrase which was hilarious at the time.
Of course, I loved them. So did everyone else.
One friend posted a message reminiscing about how we all sobbed in the back of the car all of the way home and couldn’t even begin to explain to our home friends how much we just wanted to be back at summer school.
The memory took me right back to July 1994 and the rear seat of my dad’s burgundy Sierra, with my poor parents struggling to understand why, if I’d supposedly enjoyed myself so much at this strange, artistic camp of weirdos, I was in floods of tears for days after my return.
These pictures, unearthed from boxes in our attics and under spare beds, transported us back to another time.
And what was most fantastic about these photos was that they portrayed us – all of us – in our nerdy, geeky, teenage splendour, no matter what grown-up people we’ve supposedly turned into as adults. The world of digital photography has killed all of that off. The youth of today will not have the candid family photo album full of embarrassing shots; the nerdy pictures of their teenage years. No, any photograph which is not deemed to show their best – nay, perfect – side, is condemned to the virtual dustbin.
Indeed, a report out recently from mobile phone manufacturer Samsung found that 68 per cent of pictures we take are now deleted – all of these pieces of history consigned to oblivion. Two-thirds of people admitted they regularly delete or edit photographs in order to ensure that only flattering pictures appear in albums. Almost one in five pictures posted to social media sites have been edited – cropped, filtered or the brightness adjusted.
Ex-boy and girlfriends can be erased with a single click, removing the sorry episode – and potentially an important piece of personal history – from their lives. Fashion faux pas can be forgotten; best friends who are no longer best friends deleted to make digital space for new ones.
All that will remain will be a shiny, airbrushed version of what didn’t really happen – selfies showing people having a “great time” on what was possibly not such a great night. Happy, authentic photographs of what really happened will be ditched, because the subject just didn’t like the angle of their chin or regretted their fashion choices that day.
But why? For me, not having the real, candid, warts-and-all photos would be a huge shame. Not necessarily at the time the photos are taken, natch, but in later years, when you’re old enough to realise that looking perfect in every shot is not the be-all and end-all of life.
For some reason, actual, hard-copy photos are harder to throw out than digital ones – the idea of chucking out even the most blurry shots from the dozens of packets of Truprint snaps nestling in storage boxes at my house fills me with dread.
In our embarrassing summer school album, there are the action shots where I’m caught on camera, most definitely not presenting my best side, but laughing my head off and balancing precariously on Larry’s shoulders as we play a game of something that looks like human polo.
There’s one where my friend Rachel – now a responsible mother of two – is sporting a short, flippy summer dress that she really shouldn’t have been wearing to play the cello.
Then there are those where Simon, employed currently as something very important at the Royal Museums in London, is wearing a policeman’s helmet and blowing a whistle – or another, where he is bizarrely clad in stripey tights and a beard wig.
You couldn’t make these up. We are all young and genuinely happy: laughing and having the time of our lives.
I wouldn’t want to erase that for anything.