Since purchasing my first digital camera in 2005, I've taken and kept more than 18.000 pictures. 18,000!! I know this because, recently, my computer began behaving oddly and when I checked its disk capacity I found that I'd used 96% of the available space. Most of that space was taken up by photos. I transferred them to an external drive for storage and, as I transferred them, my computer told me how many files were being moved.
I draw and paint and write blogs so I refer back to my photos a lot. It helps that from the beginning I've been a careful file manager, deleting duplicates and sorting my images into files labelled by date, or - in some special cases - by subject. I find it surprising how many of these images I remember, and how readily I can find them within my files when I need them, but the fact remains that it's a ridiculously large number of pictures.
There are, of course, a reasons for this excess. Because they're built into our phones almost all of us have cameras with us,almost all the time. Once we've paid for the camera itself, it costs nothing to take as many photos as we like and, once we've paid for our internet access, it costs nothing to share our photos with friends and acquaintances. Since both phone and internet are considered everyday expenses now, it makes sense to get as much use out of them as we can.
Before digital cameras, photography was a much more expensive project. Film had to be purchased and, once exposed, had to be developed. You gambled that your photos were good enough to justify the cost of paying to have them printed. Unless you owned a Polaroid camera, nothing was immediate. You had to wait while your film was being processed.
I took fewer pictures back in the days of film; maybe 500 a year. Expense and lack of storage space both encouraged moderation.
I tended to choose my subject matter and frame my shots more carefully when using film but, even so, my photos now are much better than the pictures I took then. Perhaps my skills have improved with practice.
I was never one for arranging things in photo albums so most of the photos I took on film are still in the envelopes they came in, packed into boxes and stored in my craft room cupboards. Because of the inconvenience of pulling the boxes out and sorting through them, I look at those older pictures far less often than I do the digital photos in my computer files.
This last fact got me thinking: I don't need those printed photos to remember back to the years they portray, so if something happened to my digital photos would I miss them?
I would miss them. I do refer to my photos often. They're a rich source of inspiration for my creative endeavours. Still and all though, I'd manage just fine without them.
A photo is just an image. A memory is so much more; wrapped in emotion and including all the senses, not just our eyes. When I look back, I realize that most of the really big moments in my life - those times of great epiphanies, or emotions, or life changing importance - were never captured in an image anyway. I have no tangible, visible reminder of those times but they're etched forever in my heart. And in the end it's those moments that count. They define who and what I am.
I'll continue to take photos. I'll continue to save them, to work from them, and to enjoy them. I'll continue to be grateful for how easy and affordable it's become to capture an image. More importantly, though, I'll continue to make memories; to set aside my camera for long enough to look at and truly experience the gifts life brings my way.