As another birthday looms up, I guess I've been taking crap photos for about 60 years. I think me and my sibs might have had access to a cheap point-and-shoot camera in the 1960s. There is not much evidence to show for this now because few enough pictures were taken: apart from the cost of the camera the consumables [film, developing, printing] were not insignificant. But this is also true that, for far too many of the surviving photos, I am the one gurning and subverting what should have been a nice family occasion. By the time The Boy was born in the 1970s, Instamatic cameras were widely available and processing costs were affordable: maybe the cost of a paperback book? So there are rather more photos of him as a chap.
Sometime after his 2nd birthday, we sat down and put all these documentary records into a handful of albums. They have not worn well, despite being protected from sunlight and extremes of temperature and humidity. The film quality must have been a reflection of the price. If we'd been serious about archiving his childhood, we'd have spent more, taken fewer pics and and thought more carefully about storage. It is also hard to remember in the digital age that the feedback was hopelessly deferred. You had to finish the whole film of 24 or 36 pics and then send the film for processing. It might be 2 or 3 weeks before you realised that you'd been clicking away with no film in the camera, or double exposing a film or just taking hopelessly over-exposed, badly lit or poorly composed snaps.
It's downhill after that. Photos were taken, developed, printed, viewed, shuffled, finger-printed, splotched with butter and put back in the shipping envelope. Periodically these envelopes were bundled into boxes and we've been toting this burden around or storing it under beds and the top of wardrobes for two more children and four more decades. In the 80s and 90s, photos-by-post companies were in hot competition - offering an extra set of prints for £1 or printing a 6 x 4 photo and two much smaller versions on the same paper. The idea being that you could send the extras to doting grandparents or the pals who was visiting at the time. Needless to say we rarely had enough friends to offload these surplus pics.
And the duplicates often came in a separate envelope that might have finished in a different box or shuffled in with other related or unrelated photos in a desultory, partial, uncompleted project in the distant past.
Enter Dau.II wearing her red underpants over her blue tights to sit down and put some order on this chaos. She is a notorious light packer and simple lifer. I think she's figured that it's easier to work out who's who when her parents are alive than . . . later. After cleaning the cooker but before de-weeding the patio, this superhero of clutter [stand aside Marie Kondo] heaved the family photo archive from under her bed and started to put manners on it: "this picture of trees against a skyline for which nobody can hazard the GPS coordinates beyond: probably Ireland, possibly Northumberland, maybe 1980s? hmmm? we might ditch that??". And the goddamm dupes? The family are keen on jigsaws, it looks like we might have to rent a church hall, spread out all the photos face up on the floor and pair them off. I think we have agreed that
- the negatives are for the bin
- only one copy of each pic will be accepted to the archive
- pictures of clouds, feet and the inside of rucksacks will be discarded
- fuzzy, over-, double- or under- exposed prints = dump
- discard all but one of several similar pictures of the same person
- ugly babies of unknown ancestry = bin
- back-of-head shots, even if the President of Ireland = trash
- dilapidated cottages we didn't buy in the early 90s can be culled
Still and all, there is a good chance that these actual photographs will outlive the digital tsunami of really crap photos which we are currently contributing to.
It is appropriately ironic that this post includes zero pictures!