My friend is in front of me, her head stuck looking down. Her thumb has been scrolling endlessly over the glass of her smartphone for several minutes. Sometimes, she stops the motion and looks carefully at the thumbnails, then starts scrolling again.
“It is somewhere, I know it is. Wait! Here it is! No! It is not this one” She anxiously says.
Somewhere in her phone is the proof of a memory she so wishes to share with me. Buried amongst thousands of photos, there is a series of images that are supposed to explain the joy and excitement my friend is currently feeling. The moment is awkward. She is aware my patience is running low. She knows she has lost my attention. I am physically there, but my eyes are looking up, following a flock of birds passing by. My mind is running through a list of things I have to do, places I need to be. I feel bad because I am disrespecting her. But I also feel annoyed because I feel disrespected.
“Ah! There it is!” She jolts proudly.
But within seconds, her face quickly unveils her sense of being overwhelmed. There are too many simile photos connected to this memory, too many images to choose from. She doesn’t know which one to show me. Powerless and defeated, she turns the phone over, trying to convince me how amazing it was and instructing me to swipe through. She quiets herself and her stare starts wandering.
I am polite and fake a caring and positive reaction. Inside though, I am irritated. Why does she think I want to look at a bunch of look-a-like photos? Why is she given me the burden of sifting through “her” junk and create “her” storyline? I gave her my time and attention because I wanted to hear “her” tell me story. Now I have her phone in my hand and my friend has disappeared, sort of speak.
If a person doesn’t put the proper time in curating their images and crafting their memories, why should they deserve my time? Why should I listen to them? It is like if someone invited me over for dinner. Only to be received by showing me to the fridge where I can choose the food I want to prepare for myself. Why inviting me if you can’t even host me properly?
The world of photography and storytelling has changed a lot since the days of film. Back then, the craft was expensive and time consuming. Every time you pressed the shutter, you were mindful of the outcome, both financially and in the amount of work needed. Space was also very limited. Film rolls contained at the maximum 36 photos and the amount of rolls one would or could carry was depending on the level of trouble you would want to go through. Once the pictures developed, they would be manually put, one by one, into an album. By doing this, by actively participating into the creative process and development of the narrative, people took ownership of the stories they wanted to tell. There was always a certain pride in opening an album and showing it to a friend or a family member. And for those friends or family, the experience was memorable and personal. These stories were crafted with time and commitment. Each photo placed with care and thoughtfully. The order far from being random, the creator of the album had set each photo with the intent of telling a story, with a beginning, a middle and an end.
Today, the picture is quite different!
Technology has conquered the limitations we once faced. But with this new reality came a world a new problems.
Our capacity to create without any limit has rendered us prisoners of our own creations. We don’t own our photos anymore, they own us.
When I am asked what is the best advice for doing photography, my answer is always the same – learn to DELETE first. As much as we are privileged, living with tools that give us so much freedom to experiment, that freedom quickly disappears if we are not able to delete the junk – and yes junk it is!
Learning to delete is to my opinion the greatest challenge and most necessary skill today’s photographers must develop. And since we are all photographers now (amateurs and professionals) that means that everyone should learn to delete.
Deleting photos is more than making room in your library, it is an empowering skill and a crucial tool in developing your craft. By deleting the ones you don’t like, you start to discover what you like. You start taking ownership of your photos. And with ownership comes pride. And with pride comes value. Instead of being passive, you become an active participant in the art of telling stories. Instead of letting the photos dictate your narrative, you create the narrative.
What is the value of our photos today? How much do we truly value the moments we try so hard to capture and record? Do we really honor those precious episodes by dumping our photos into a virtual cumulative album that has no narrative, no order, other than the dates they were taken.
I believe that the great irony of our time is that our photos have become ephemeral, not because there existence is limited, but because their value have disappeared, despite of their existence. By taking so many photos and failing to keep only the good ones, we have lost the ownership of the moments we are precisely trying to own.
Deleting photos about not letting “things” define us. It is about being able to separate the excess from the meaningful. It is about existing in the moment, honoring and respecting the people we love, the places we cherish, and the times we want to remember.