When is it Time to Say Your Final Goodbyes
June 06, 2013 • Leave a Comment
Have you ever felt like your life has been a waste of time? Ever felt really small and worthless?
If you would like to see what this feels like I urge you to take a step back about 20 years and look at the work you did back then. I did this by accident last week. I was looking for a slide from an event that happened about 20 years ago. My file system for older images requires that I look through hundreds of images to find the one I want. It’s certainly not the best file system but, short of scanning all those slides, it’s the most efficient for me. This exercise pointed out one of the biggest advantages of digital technology too. The ability to add keywords and other metadata to an image thus providing the ability to let software do the searching cannot be overstated.
Anyway, back to my point. While I was searching for this transparency and glancing at hundreds of images that I have chosen to save for 20 years or more I was struck with the revelation that 95% of what I’ve saved for so long is complete crap. If that four-drawer file cabinet full of slides suddenly burst into flames and was completely engulfed, it wouldn’t be much of a loss. No one would notice. I would have enough room in my office to install a larger printer. With the exception of a handful of photographs the history of photography and my personal legacy wouldn’t even notice the loss.
So, why have I kept all these “lousy” slides for so long? Why couldn’t I discard these the first time I edited the shoot? Did I really think they were great back then? I think the answer comes from two different places. First, as I’ve mentioned before, most photographers I know like to let their images sit for a period of time before they do their final edit. The reason for this is pretty simple. Time allows us to distance ourselves from the emotions that may have caused us to make the photograph initially and to view them through more-objective eyes. The fact that I never came back to finish this edit is a testament to the images’ lack of value. The technique and skill of the photographer (me) at the time was not sufficient to translate that emotional response to a future viewer. It didn’t even remind the original photographer why he made the image. That’s pretty bad! The second reason for keeping these photographs is even more difficult to embrace. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. I can’t get them back. Those scenes, buildings, people and events don’t exist today like they did back then. They cause their own emotional response. They take my memory back to a time that has been lost in the past. The memory of the event may disappear with the disposal of the image. Maybe that only affects extremely visual people like me. I’m not sure how others process this type of information.
For now the slides are safe, lousy as they are. I wonder if Ansel Adams saved the negatives he wasn’t thrilled with? He is quoted as saying “12 good pictures a year is a pretty good crop” or something like that. I could save a lot of space if I only kept 12 pictures a year. But which ones should I save? That’s the problem! Occasionally I find a “winner” a year or more after the photo was made. Maybe that’s the benchmark. I think, however, the real reason the old stuff has little appeal to me is that I’m a very different person, photographer, artist, than I was 20 years ago. The subjects that appeal to me today was of little interest back then. The opposite is also true. Will I ever find those old photographs appealing again in an artistic way? Probably not. I guess it’s time to do that final edit.
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