The Photo Album Story: from bulky Family Albums to Going Digital to Digital Hoarding

There was a time, little over a decade ago when family photo albums used to be such prized possessions. Old albums with black & white photographs, butter paper separating each sheet, gave way to the newer plastic album with coloured photographs. I still remember the feel of browsing through those old family albums, fingering the photographs, some of them faded, lovingly. My grandparents posing stiffly with their children, my mom in her school dress or the wedding pictures of parents. Those albums had an intimate appeal, there was something strangely warm about their mothy smell. Then came the bright and happy plastic albums with coloured photographs, mostly pictures of us growing up, cousins getting married.

The charm of black & white

Wedding albums were another story altogether. They were great fun when from a wedding of someone close in the family. I loved flipping through them with my cousins, re-living the moments, sometimes admiring ourselves, sometimes laughing at our silly make-up and hairdo. However, I would dread visiting a neighbour or a distant relative who just had a wedding in the family. For that visit would invariably involve having to go through the bulky wedding album and pretending to admire the bride, the groom and the family who I hardly knew or cared about, accompanied by the constant commentary of an enthusiastic aunt, most often the mother of the bride. Wedding albums were proudly displayed and presented with gusto to indifferent visitors who had to then put up a zealous show of browsing through them.

Then came the digital age. Photography went digital and so did the storage. We were not limited by film rolls or albums anymore. Photographs that were once taken only on special occasions, for film rolls were numbered and getting them developed was expensive, and you could only have that many albums, became an everyday affair. Armed with digital cameras we can take any number of photographs, mobile cameras allow us to take our own pictures, the famous or infamous selfies. And it gets better, we can share your photographs and albums with the entire world, we are not limited to your reluctant friends and relatives. Facebooks and Insta are flooded with photographs and selfies of morning moods, evening moods, happy poses, sad pictures, holiday albums, wedding albums, feeling good albums, just random clicks and not to miss the airport check-ins, especially from those travelling international. Like it or not, we get a peek into our distant relatives’, neighbours’, colleagues’ or acquaintances’ lives the moment we log into any social media platform. We are expected to participate by giving them a thumbs up for we are now ‘digital animals,’ netizens who connect and correspond online.   

Posing for FB

Like most people of my generations, I enthusiastically embraced various inventions of the digital age. My Yashica camera gave way to Sony Coolpix. Soon high megapixel mobile camera made Coolpix redundant. My laptop, mobile phone, google drive & Picasa web album are flooded with photographs. Like most netizens of my generation, I started posting photographs on FB and counting likes, as if the number of likes was all that mattered.  After the initial excitement and being bombarded by all kinds of photographs on social media, I became more a restrained and less enthusiastic netizen. I keep photographs in my mobile and my google drives for my own personal viewing, to be shared with close friends and family on request only.

My problem is quite peculiar. Once I click a photograph or get a photograph via WhatsApp, I somehow can’t delete it. Even after the pictures of my phone are saved to a drive for some strange reason, I can’t empty my phone gallery. As a result, I am flooded with thousands of photos, sometimes similar, flooding my phone and drives. Recent pictures, old B&W photos that I may have clicked or received, similar pictures of me looking out of the window or posing in a sari, my nieces and nephews smiling, birds over flying over a lake, a fort. One side of my brain knows my mobile gallery needs to be emptied, similar shots deleted, the other vehemently argues what if I lose something valuable by deleting those pictures. Maybe it’s the hoarding mentality being carried forward to the digital age, making me a digital hoarder!

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