The Photo Pile

So today I downloaded an app. It was free and the idea of it captivated me. An app that's designed to use the camera on your phone to scan and restore old photographs? I was intrigued.

As the app began to download, I hurried off to find the pile of old photos that I had stashed away in a drawer. Eagerly, I dug through the drawer, pulling out old pictures in a flurry of excitement. I gathered together my little pile and sat impatiently on the floor as I launched the app and sat through its tutorial. Once certain that I understood the basic ins and outs, I began the process of scanning my photographs. One by one, the images were captured on my iPhone, little relics of our family history conveniently stashed away on the device that follows me wherever I go. I loved it. I loved knowing that I could look at those pictures anytime I wanted.

Pile of PhotographsBut as I looked over the pictures now residing on my phone, I glanced at the pile of photos still sitting on my floor.

And I put my phone away.

These photographs are so much more than just pieces of paper with images on them. They're nothing fancy. Some of them were taken at portrait studios, others are just simple snapshots.

But there is something that these little bits of paper have that my iPhone never will.

Grandpa and Grandma Ellison WeddingYou see, my iPhone will never let me feel the stickiness of the adhesive that secured the black and white photograph of my grandparents on their wedding day to an album. It won't let me see the way the paper is curled from being removed from that album.

It won't have handwritten notes on the back that show it was Christmas 1988 and I was 14 months old when I had my picture taken with Santa at the mall.

I wouldn't know that the picture of my grandparents standing side by side on a sidewalk was taken in Scottsdale, Arizona three years before I was born.

Grandma Marge as a ChildI'd have no idea that the little girl smiling up at me in the faded and yellowed black and white photograph was my grandma as a little girl, nor would I have known that her dress was actually pink had it not been written on the back.

The picture of my grandma holding me as a baby wouldn't have seemed as significant if I couldn't see the inscription written on the back letting me know that I was only 4 days old when she held me in her lap and gazed at me with a huge smile.

It was in that moment that I think I truly realized the value of photographs.

I will never have the same emotional response viewing a photo on a screen that I will have when I hold one in my hand.

Let me ask you this: If for some reason your computer died, your phone dumped its memory, the cloud somehow lost your content, or old CDs and USB drives full of pictures were corrupted, what would you have to show for it?

Would you still have your family memories?

As I sit here surrounded by these family treasures, I've come to a realization.

I've had memory cards and hard drives corrupt. I've felt the pit in my stomach and the fear that they might never be recovered, lost for good. We are all so dependent on our technology, but what if it fails? What if those memories were gone forever?

That being said, keep your digitals, but let them be your backup. Don't let them be the only form of your photos that exists. I know that there are thousands of pictures sitting on my iPhone that have never existed outside of the digital world, and starting today, that changes.

While I thought it was weird when my mom would write notes on the backs of pictures that she had just picked up from the photo lab, pictures that we had only taken a few weeks ago, I get it now. I understand the importance of those silly little dates and names and plan to form the same habit.

Me and MatthewAnd no, I will never get around to printing all 12,433 photos on my iPhone. My children and grandchildren won't care about the cool picture of my cup of coffee that I took to post on Instagram or how many likes it got and they probably won't care about a beautiful summer sunset. They'll want to see pictures of me, pictures of Matthew, pictures of us living our lives.

Those are the types of pictures that I want to stumble upon when I dig through a drawer. Those are the memories that I want to be able to pass on to my future kids and grandkids. Not hard drives, iPhones, memory cards, and cloud passwords.


Real photographs that can be passed around.

Photographs that give little glimpses into what was happening at the exact moment the shutter clicked thanks to their carefully written notes.

I know that they will probably get tucked away in a drawer at some point, but I also know the joy that comes when, after a period of being forgotten, they are rediscovered once again.

And that is a feeling that no JPEG has ever provided me.