When I was a little girl, I used to hunker down next to the wooden side-table in our living room and rifle through its contents for hours. The hollow table had a heavy door that would spring open occasionally, due to the pressure from the thousands of pictures thrown inside. I loved to sit and look at those pictures—they told me so much about myself when I was a baby, my parents before they were married, and even their families before they ever met.
Where have all these photos gone? The candid ones, the slightly out-of-focus ones, the ones you thought you’d never need to see again? It’s as though they have completely disappeared, falling victim to the “crop-him-outs,” “she’s-not-smilings,” “put-a-filter-on-that-ones” and “ew-no-deletes” that are now our M.O.
The excitement around personal photography is yet another casualty of our immediacy-obsessed culture. It used to be that you had way fewer chances to get the photo just right; and with the exception of a Polaroid, you then had to wait for the pictures to get developed. Remember picking up that roll of film? That first flip-through was so exhilarating—you couldn’t wait to see the five or six great shots you got. Then, you’d chuck the rest in a drawer because, well, you have to put them somewhere.
And it’s those photos I miss the most. Those throwaway pictures might not mean much at the time, but they are full of little forensic nuggets to fuel a walk down memory lane sometime in the future—whether for you, your children, or even your grandkids.
You know the photos I’m talking about. There’s that one where that sweet neighbor sat in the background at your fifth birthday party … remember him? Or the one you use as proof that Aunt Janie brought a date to your cousin’s baptism. Or the one that lets you see all the furniture in your 70s living room so that your mental picture of the time is not only hella-groovy, but it is actually accurate. Or the one that finally caught that side-eye your sister made every time you told her how much you loved her.
Nowadays, we spend so much time getting that perfect photo, and then that’s the only one we keep around. It’s the only one that gets printed (if indeed we do print it), and it’s definitely the only one that gets saved. So, let’s bring back the candid photo. And let’s keep around the messy pictures where nobody is smiling. And let’s see the value in the photograph that appears to be of nothing, but actually contains oh so much.
In the spirit of nostalgia—and even historical accuracy—I’m going to start taking more candid photos of my children, along with keeping all of the oopsies along the way. Don’t get me wrong; the posed and polished ones are great too, and I will continue to schedule our annual photo shoot. But I also want to remember how cute they look when they are just sitting and watching TV, or how little they seem next to our furniture or in various doorways, just as they walk through the house.
I also intend to leave more snapshots just as they are—no editing, no filtering, no cropping. Our obsession with cropping has cut so much out of our photos, both literally and figuratively. I don’t want to crop out all signs of life. If a picture was taken when I was still bottle-feeding the baby, let’s see that counter full of dirty bottles. Let that wide angle show the latest school painting on the fridge; or the huge container of Cheerios that we munch on all day; or the fuzzy throw blanket that my oldest likes to snuggle in; or even the huge stack of diapers on the table … remember those days?
I admit, the pictures of my children’s lives are already so carefully curated that it makes me sad. I have to be more intentional about documenting life as it really is. I would love for my sons to want to flip through all those old pictures someday, just like I did when I was a little girl. I’m determined to document their childhoods as best I can, and I’m excited to illustrate the memorable stories we will recount all our lives.