Friday, January 22, 2010

Fifty photos for fifty cents (and lots and lots of memories)

Maintaining my photo album is yet another one of those things that I know I should make a regular habit of, but it always falls in priority to the point where it doesn’t get done. Compared with keeping up the house, completing paid writing assignments, or playing with my children, it’s just too far down on the list. Back in the days of print photography, I was much better about it. I’d finish a roll of film, send it off to get developed, winnow through the packet of prints that came back, and slide the one I deemed worthy into the plastic album sleeves. When friends admired my well-organized albums and admitted they stored their packets of prints in shoeboxes, I felt a little bit superior.

But after I started using a digital camera, my good habits fell by the wayside. It’s so easy to just store electronic files and promise yourself you’ll print them someday. After all, you know they’re right there on your hard drive (and we all know what a safe place that is, ha ha. I frequently remind myself that storing files on my hard drive without backing up is like putting a mug of coffee on the roof of the car while I help the kids with their seatbelts. Maybe it’ll still be there when I remember to retrieve it, and maybe it won’t.)

So when Kodak ran that memorable ad for photo printers with the line “Mothers, don’t let your babies grow up to be pixels,” I knew they meant me.

Still, it’s hard to keep up. I don’t have my own photo printer, so I need to send my photo files out to be printed, and without the standard unit count of 24 that we all became accustomed to with film photography, I never quite feel that the time is right to print.

This year I came up with a different approach – the opposite of the keeping-up strategy that I used back in the film days. I kept procrastinating on ordering pictures although I had them all organized by month on my computer, and then right after Christmas I received a promotional email from Snapfish advertising 50 prints for 50 cents. Not only did it seem like a good deal even with shipping costs added on; I liked the idea of choosing the 50 photos that best reflected 2009 for us, although I wasn’t averse to paying a few cents more if I couldn’t winnow it down to 50.

Once I’d chosen, it actually came out to 54, and by the second week in January, the packet of photos had arrived in the mail. I happened to be going away over the weekend, so I took a newly purchased album and the photos with me, and a mere two hours on Saturday afternoon was all it took to get The Year in Pictures all wrapped up.

And I have to say, I’m delighted with the results. It’s not just a matter of feeling organized. Putting a year’s worth of pictures in an album has the effect of giving the year a certain shape and form that it didn’t necessarily have in my mind previous to this representation. On the one hand, it’s not an original observation to note that in family photos, everyone always looks happy and harmonious; no one (except maybe art students) takes pictures of family fights or boring rainy afternoons.

But it’s not just that. Seeing our year reflected in its most photogenic moments reminds me that even though every year has ups and downs, disappointments, disputes, illnesses, frustrations, we also had a lot of really great times during the past twelve months. There were the obvious and unforgettable ones, like our five-day trip to Florida in late February: look at the kids building a sand castle together on the beach and taking a ride at Busch Gardens. But there were those that we might forget without a commemorative photo as well: the June afternoon when Tim and I went running with Tim’s fourth grade teacher; the morning Tim and his friend Will fed the cows and sheep by themselves; Holly reading a picture book to her two younger cousins on Easter morning. Halloween costumes and Thanksgiving feasts: of course we’d remember that those holidays took place, but the pictures remind me that these annual observances have unique hallmarks from one year to the next: Holly marching in the school parade hand-in-hand with her friend Samantha (a monkey and a witch, together at last – why not?); Tim and three friends savoring a nothing-but-bacon breakfast at the end of Tim’s birthday sleepover.

And while I might have ended 2009 with the overall sense that we didn’t do much in the way of family travel last year, the photos remind me of all the many smaller excursions we took: the Boston Harbor Islands on a hot August day; Bath, Maine, for the Fourth of July; Pennsylvania during April vacation. True, I always feel like I don’t see my sisters and their families enough in the course of a year, but the photos remind me of the good times we managed to fit in with them: playing basketball in Swarthmore; a spring tea party over Easter weekend; an afternoon of tiara-making; an anniversary dinner which featured the most elaborate baked Alaska I have ever seen, made by my sister Lauren.

Maybe it’s just to excuse future procrastination, but in a way I like this approach: wait until the year is over and then compile photos from the entire twelve months. Yes, it sanitizes things by eliminating all the not-so-memorable times. But it also reminds me that if we‘re as fortunate as we were last year, we have plenty of good times to look forward to in the next twelve months.

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