“If I had a photograph of you, it’s something to remind me...”
It may feel like a clichè but with the ubiquity of smartphones it has never been easier to capture an image and each year we take thousands of photographs. The result of a recent report highlighted that a large percentage of people may never look at these photos after the initial capture. What do we do with them then? We may share these online, forward to friends and family, but do we print them? Do we still create albums to treasure? Do we still value them? If not, are we in danger of just accumulating and ultimately forgetting about them and in the process losing our own personal history and with it our ability to pass this on? Growing up I have no recollection of there being a camera around. I recall photos appearing of family and relatives and of course there were the perennial school portraits and class photos. Thinking of it now the first time I would have actually been aware of one being in the house was when my younger brother won a Polaroid instant camera in a competition around 1974, I have no idea what model it would have been. When I left home I didn’t own a camera, in fact the first camera that I owned was only purchased about 10 years ago. A Kodak ‘bridge’ camera bought to follow up my then growing interest in street photography. It wasn’t until I received an iPhone 4S in 2012 that my enthusiasm for photography took off. This new passion also highlighted the fact that I have very few photos before this, something which brings with it sadness and a touch of regret. When I was in my early to mid teens my parents separated and later divorced. My mother had left my father, myself and two brothers to start again without us. My father put a lot of family possessions into crates at a storage facility with the local council. When the dust had settled and he had secured a new home (we went from one place to another for about a year) he went to arrange for the delivery of his things. That’s when he got the news, they had been trying to contact him for a while. There had been a fire and everything he had put into the crates had been destroyed. As it turns out he wasn’t the only one. Amongst my father’s things were decades of family photos, documents and mementos, lost forever.. Back in the 1970’s the digital back–ups and cloud storage that we take for granted today, were the stuff of ‘Tomorrow’s World’ and Science Fiction programmes. Where the documentation of important events and the day to day should be, for me there is now a void, a permanent space. At the time of writing (March 2020) my younger brother was found dead at his home. He was a stranger to me. Our lives had taken very different paths after my parents finally divorced. Those final teenage years were fraught and emotions ran high, the tension and friction was too much and I eventually left and moved away from my home town. In the days before leaving I managed to get a handful of family photos from my mother that she had taken with her when she left us, I had no idea that she had these. Those faded large black and white shots taken at home, tiny black and white shots with curled corners of babies in prams in the garden, cracked photo booth portraits of my 2 year old self, the square colour saturated prints of brothers outside the seaside amusements and a few damaged colour cast and out of focus square prints of walks along by the river were all that I had to remember happier times. In the following months that merged into years and with the family unit now gone I was more concerned with trying to get by as I moved from bedsit to flat and running my record label than I was with documenting my life.
In the days following my brothers death I made several visits to his home to try and sort out his possessions. There were no documents or papers to be found anywhere. It appeared on first look that he kept nothing, but at the bottom of a small cupboard underneath stacks of yellowing books and bags of CD’s was a box of photographs that documented the early years of his son and daughter. Amongst them was a photo of my father taken a few months before he lost his battle with Cancer and Asbestosis (he had been a Clydeside shipyard worker in the late 1960’s early 1970’s). I was overjoyed to find this as I had no photos of him beyond my teenage years. A few days after my fathers cremation my mother turned up at my youngest brothers house (he lived with our father) offering to help him sort through the contents of the house. Without myself and my brother knowing she had emptied the contents of drawers and boxes into refuse sacks with no thought for what was in them, nothing was looked at, everything was taken out with the rubbish. It was only a few days later that we discovered what had happened, photographs and documents were gone, again we were left with nothing. As for my dead brothers photographs in the box there were no recent photographs of his children, no physical prints, no home inkjet paper copies, nothing. His own story stopped at a certain point. His mobile phone was locked, password protected, locked to a network and inaccessible. Visits to several phone shops (with the death certificate as proof of who I was) brought me no clearer to getting access. Everything on the phone including the photos were all effectively gone. A further family album lost. In the weeks after the funeral I had many conversations with friends and work colleagues about family photos, photos of friends, events, holidays and the day to day snapshots. I discovered to my surprise that very few of them were printing their photos. It made me realise that I should be making a bigger effort myself. In the years before and after leaving home I had no camera as mentioned earlier, and as a result no photos of myself or friends, but conversations with close friends revealed that they had some. So over a short period of time I managed to bring together a handful of photographs that captured a few memorable events. My first move into a bedsit; summer nights fuelled with alcohol, friendship and laughter; travels to formative gigs in Edinburgh and London that shaped who I am today together with blurry snapshots of long forgotten parties. With an obsessive amount of time spent on it, I have finally finished importing, ordering and processing over 10,000 family photographs (from the last 13 years) on an iPad Pro and there is now a sense of urgency and a need to print photobooks to preserve a physical object of the special moments and the everyday events. I have an organised chronological digital catalogue and many back ups on a few external drives and cloud storage copies that my wife and son can access, but with the global COVID–19 pandemic and all that has come with it, the anxiety around time and mortality is very real. The App Store (other platforms are available...) has no end of easy to use Apps to produce high quality prints and photo books all from your device straight from the camera roll. No Graphic Design or Desk Top Publishing qualifications are needed to create something memorable as a look through in App pre–designed templates illustrates how sophisticated software has become. You can even take your device to a supermarket to have prints done on the spot. Now that a lockdown is in place why not get started. Organise your photos, weed them out remembering that a memorable shot doesn’t have to be in focus (perfection is overrated), find the best of your shots, the ones that have meaning.
Take the leap and produce something physical that has real meaning and a legacy that will last.