What I learned from going through fourteen years of haphazard photo taking.

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This week, we partook in the pastime of dumpster diving. Although it was not quite the same as Portlandia portray it… In reality we simply found some perfectly good furniture left outside the gate of our building’s rubbish bin enclosure – the aftermath of someone moving out. We only took one item. A photo box. We had given one exactly like it to some friends for their wedding years ago. It had been one of those presents that I’d been jealous of, always wishing that we’d got one for ourselves. When that couple split up a year later, I did wonder about the photo box, and whose memories were in it now.

Well the universe has a way of bringing things back to you. Over a decade later, there was one of said photo boxes waiting to be saved from the tip. I was more than happy to oblige. Other than being slightly dusty, it was all in working order. 


I realised that even though we hadn’t printed photos in years, we had nearly fourteen years of digital photos which could be printed easily. It is not the expensive process of yesteryear when a roll of 24 photos cost nearly $20 to develop. I counted how many photos it held in its dangling slats. We could print the 124 photos needed to fill the box completely for $12.40. Well worth it.

Then to choose the ones to be printed. I had two days off this week, just because, and despite what else I had planned, I ended up spending nearly five hours scrolling through fourteen years of images.

This is what I discovered…

I take a lot of awful photos. I mean a lot. And awful on many levels. Blurry. Pointless. 'Arty'. Twenty-five thousand of a single sunset, but then none of the people who were there watching it. 


Yes, I was able to find enough photos to fill the box but it was such an interesting trip down memory lane that made me realise that my photo taking habits are flawed.

I’ve always been wary of too many selfies. I’ve always thought the photos of what you were seeing were more important than of yourself in front of it. I’ve always found people’s travel photos a bit tedious when they are in every shot.

What I found when I was going through our photos looking for the choicest memories to print is that many of the landscapes, almost all of the sunsets, all of the arty shots of nothing-in-particular-at-an-interesting-angle, were very quickly skipped over. What I was drawn to, what made me pause and laugh, or think, were the photos of friends and family. The ones with people in them. 


It has been almost four years since we moved from Sydney to Melbourne and so we only occasionally see our Sydney friends. It was almost distressing how few nice photos I had to choose from. Shots of everyone together. Even people on their own. Some of our dearest friends appeared only twice, once in a blurry, low-light shot taken at a concert, and once in a quick snap taken at an Ikea simply to have a contact photo on my phone. This made me so sad.

I must admit, things are easier these days now that the phone doubles as a camera worth using. The automatic back up to ‘The Cloud’. The digital camera used to be a separate entity that had to be carried around on the off chance of a photo opportunity and was too regularly forgotten, or not even used.

This is what I’ve come to realise. Take photos. Yes, take your arty shots of interesting things. Yes, capture that sunset. Yes, panorama the hell out of that landscape. (Don't forget, better photographers than you have probably taken the same landscape and you'll be able to find them online.) But do not forget the people you’re with, or think that a quick, passing happy snap will suffice when you find yourself living in another state and you’re lucky to see people a couple of times a year, if that. As poxy as it sounds, I would strongly recommend taking the time to stop and take a group shot when you’re with friends (particularly ones you see infrequently, but also those closest to you, especially at out of the ordinary events). Take the time to make sure it’s nice.

Don’t create a situation where you have to go dumpster diving for decent memories.

Don’t be surprised if I ask for a group selfie when next we meet.


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