digital grannies

digital grannies and organizing photos

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.

20 thoughts on “digital grannies

  1. I love the way you describe blogs. It is so easy to dismiss the zillions of photos we take, but there are definitely many treasures. I recently made a couple of albums from photos of the last few years. It does take time but for me, once I have the photos, I find it really easy to organize them into a photo book via the options that Apple has. I love having a hard copy, but you’ve reminded me I need to do more for the digital ones.

  2. As a non-tech inclined person, editing and organizing photos is daunting and overwhelming. It should be *so easy*. I’ve started using Social Print Studio, an app in which I can order prints with less than twenty thumb swipes. I’m days away from a new camera purchase and I’m considering its coordinating inexpensive but well-reviewed wireless photo printer as well. I’ve loved having a blog as a letter home, a diary, a repository for photos. Last Friday I wrote about my typical weekday, because I want to remember and in the words of a favorite IG photographer Garrett Cornelison, “we are important, our lives our important, and our details are worthy of being recorded.” (I’ve also found I have to print photos, make books, IMMEDIATELY before life sweeps us downstream.) I really enjoyed this post, Rachael.

    • It’s daunting and overwhelming to us too, believe me. That sounds like a great system. A typical weekday is really what I’d love to have from when we were young–I wonder what my mom was thinking so many times!
      Thanks, Julie!

  3. I am really working on getting pictures printed and put into photo albums but I am about a year and a half behind. Will I ever catch up? Who knows but this was so helpful. Where do you like to print your pictures from? I’ve tried so many places but haven’t found one that I really love yet.

    • Well I put together photo books for each year and have them printed through Artifact Uprising. It admitted takes me about a month to do one book. But we love having them, and the grandparents leave them on the coffee table and show them to their friends. It pays off.

  4. I follow you on Instagram, but have only recently started reading your blog. This is such an important post, and one that I very much needed to read. Thank you!

  5. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this. Your opening claims were so thoughtful and spot-on that I was inspired to get out my phone and take on the small but worthwhile challenge of iCloud storage AND google pictures before I finished reading your whole list. Thanks for explaining how to do it, and for the compelling reminder of why to do it – I needed that!

  6. Thank you. Just downloaded the Google app. After I had my daughter in August and was snapping too many photos, I backed them up on my computer…then realized I need to back them up on a hard drive, then wanted to use the Google cloud. It is strange how it all seems so unattainable…I still haven’t printed out wedding photos as 3-4 different sites I *tried* to use to make a book couldn’t handle the high res. After each time sorting through about 500 photos to get the perfect combo of around 150 and failing to upload, I threw in the towel. I do have those backed up in about 5 places though and LOVE going to my girlfriend’s house and seeing her beautiful photo books of her wedding. I love photo albums and really want to have those for my kids to page through, archaic as they may be.

    • That sounds SO frustrating! Shame on those photo book makers. I haven’t printed out wedding photos either…mostly because I’m not really interested in those young things anymore. But I pay an annual fee to the site where they all are. And I know Lux would love to see them…better get on it. : )

  7. Thank you for taking the time to write this. I have been struggling with this as of late and now feel truly compelled to get my digital shit together. <3 I do hope my kids find value in the time I took to document our beautiful family.

  8. I wish I could talk to you about this with our voices! I agree with a lot, and disagree, too. Thank you. I think about these things a lot too. I guess I wonder, if there are so so so many pictures, and we really are doing this in the name of memory storage: will we spend the time, or will our kids spend the time, in the future, looking through all that storage? In my mind it takes TOO short an amount of time to download that app now, to save for a day when we will supposedly have 10x the time, to look through all the photos? One argument on the side of film, I think (I still take photos with film mostly) is that it limits the number of photos I take. Also, that if, like you say, only 4 out of 24 turn out, they somehow better connect me to the memory in question (e.g.. a grainy photo, half centered, of my baby 1 day old) then a hyper – real, hyper clear 17 thousand photos on my phone of that same memory? I feel like the film and the singularity of the photo both add a lens that my memory also already has (when I see a photo from a time, my brain jumps back, my heart moves, like hearing a story.) Does that make any sense? Anyway, thank you for this writing. You are a good writer.

    • I love that and completely understand. You’re definitely not the one I’m worried about! Film is so special and that’s awesome you do that!

      But I also think taking those 17,000 photos to the next level–backing them up, letting a computer mind (google) sort them and remind you of what you have, will help people engage with what they have. Best habits would probably be glancing through our photos every day and deleting what we didn’t love (if you delete, the apps delete their copy as well). And the printing yearly books too. But those things aren’t typical habits *yet*, and the first step is to make this stuff safe. Especially stuff that’s on old computers you don’t use much anymore, or really old hard drives.

      It’s like when my parents were taking videos of us as a kid. I really don’t know where those are now. Neither do they. It was a confusing medium, they just did it, and sat on them, and then sort of lost them.

      I was thinking about how I don’t have any photos of any of my births, and I how I felt about that. Sally Mann (southern photographer) says if you take a photo, your mind forget the image. I’m not sure I believe that precisely, but I do cherish the mental images I have of my births. So there’s that element forever and always–the mental image that anyone can claim for themselves.

  9. Maybe a strange question to be coming from a millennial- how do you post iPhone photos to your blog? I’m new to Blogger, (and to my Macbook) and I’ve downloaded GooglePhotos, but it never seems like I’m using it correctly! I use my iPhone almost exclusively to take pictures, and my Macbook won’t allow me to upload them to Blogger from my photos app.

    • Hmm. If I have an iphone photo that I want to put on my blog, I’ve usually edited it with the VSCO app. Then I email the edited version to myself, from my phone. Then I drag the edited photo to my desktop, and upload it to wordpress using the “add media” button. I haven’t used blogger but I imagine they have something very similar. If you follow their directions here: https://support.google.com/blogger/answer/41641?hl=en you’d just be uploading from you desktop or a file of blog images.

  10. I really loved this post – I’m sharing a snippet of it on my blog and linking to you, and hope you don’t mind. It’s helpful to read your recommendations but I also love the way you describe blogging.

  11. Pingback: bits + bobs, february edition | Lindsey Kubly

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