Two weeks before Alma was born I was at dinner with a tableful of moms. At my corner of the table conversation turned to photos and organization. I found the three other moms overwhelmed and dismissive. One didn’t have access to the photos she wanted of her newborn–they were all on her husband’s computer because their nice camera was his. One couldn’t seem to delete a particularly unflattering photo of herself that was appearing on her synced television screen at unpredictable intervals. One wearily said she really wanted to understand Apple’s iCloud photo service but found it (understandably) mysteriously complex. All three seemed deeply frustrated.
I was frustrated by the conversation as well. The apathy and the confusion, the fluttering of hands and “oh wells” that followed. How had these moms been told it wasn’t worth their time to figure this out? Why wasn’t it worth it get their digital shit together and know where their favorite photos were?
Most of us feel that though we have not quite figured out how to handle our digital shoeboxes bursting with photos, everyone else has. But I think at least in the case of young moms, we are not figuring it out. We are studiously documenting with fingers crossed that the dusty hard drive in the cupboard will be pulled out one day, and all with be uploaded. We are snapping away with ever-better cameras, adding extra zeros on to our collection with every passing month, and yet at a standstill about what to do next.
At this point we’ve all got an attic full of wonderful photos, but the attic is really an illusion: everything could be erased if we haven’t taken the time to embrace them.
It would be nice to take advantage of the businesses offering solutions to this problem but it’s also impossible to believe any of the businesses will exist in the same way in 10 years. It’s hard to keep up with their updates and subscriptions. Thus we sit on our files like old mattress money stuffers, believing a house fire is too horrible to imagine.
But house fires of this type happen all the time. Not just ye old hard drive crash of yore, but also the inadvertent house fire in which you’ve simply lost access to that photo because it is loaded onto a hard drive buried in the closet and you’ve lost the cord.
Is a photo backed-up, yet inaccessible, still a photo in your life?
Part of the trouble is that our digital lives are still often dismissed as self-indulging and ephemeral. Instagram accounts are mentioned with an eye roll. Collecting photos annually and having them printed and bound into books takes hours, truly hours to put together, and feels hard to justify when we’ve already posted it and relished the photo elsewhere. While we’d love our children to someday say “she kept a tidy lovely home” about us, it feels less important to imagine them saying “she did such a great job of documenting our family’s life together over the years.”
Sometimes I think about blogs as this century’s cross-stitch sampler. I’ve encountered criticism of them as aggrandizing digital wastes of time. A trend. People still say things like “I don’t read blogs,” as if they were a category of acquired taste. But they are the next in a long historic line of homemaking habits, small lovely tributes to our abilities and hopes. Even if the writers gloss things over, even if they make life appear too clean and breezy. Though in theory written and created for others, they will always bring the most pleasure to their creator.
Like meandering the over-loaded toothpaste aisle wishing the one satisfactory product would reach out and shake our hand, there are more options for dealing with this than seem necessary–Flickr? Google Photos? iCloud Photo? Given that almost everyone has a iPhone, Apple has an almost moral imperative to offer the best service for our attic-less granny selves. And I think they do. But they’ve buried this knowledge under so much poor product branding. I kid you not: there are actually three separate products and these are their names: iCloud Drive, iCloud Photo, iCloud Photo Library. Yup. They must be enabled in different ways and they offer different things. Is this solvable and still incredibly functional? Yes. (how to turn on iCloud Photo Library) Google Photos, for those using their phones as their only-camera is an incredibly easy option. They compress very large photo sizes, so they are not a good fit for your wonderful DSLR shots.
Why not do both! Take one minute, one actual minute, to download the Google Photos app, and one minute to enable it to backup your photos. When you open your app again it will have built fun videos from your trip to Texas last summer and compiled every single shot you managed to get of Grandma in 2015 into one handy folder. It’s eminently browsable and wildly searchable.
Then sign up for another option, like the iCloud. I know, it costs money! But it costs a fraction of one month’s internet bill. Upload all your photos again, and the big ones too this time. Dig your old hard drive in the closet, find a plug, and upload all those too.
Let’s celebrate that we’re not dashing to the grocery store to be handed a small envelope packed with four fantastic photos and twenty crummy ones. Celebrate that there are no shoeboxes full of crumpled negatives under the bed. That we don’t need to buy pink hole punches at Creative Memories shops anymore.
But, take that freed-up time to go all in with one of these products. Whichever one you pick, use it, read the emails they send you regarding product developments or changes, set as many auto uploads as you can. Or use two, if you got the time, and play around with them! Curate and print multiples of what you discover. After the work of curating thousands of photos down to 100 of your baby’s first ten days, redouble the effects of this labor by printing a book not just for yourself but a copy for grandparents.
Take that code that keeps popping up on facebook and give chatbooks’ automatic book printing a try. Print a big colorful newspaper print from Parabo Press. Print 25 photos from that Maine college friends trip on Artifact Uprising’s gloriously thick square prints and mail them to your friends.
The point is: it’s worth it. This bit of housekeeping, the annual fee, a few hours work on the front end, perhaps an hour every week, it’s worth it. If the old romantic adage was throw away the bank statements and keep love letters, the new one is upload the photos, all of them. Relish the photos and the opportunity to back them up, not because you finally got around to deleting all the bad ones and perfectly edited the rest for light and color, but because you love them.