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Is All Our Photo Taking Worthwhile?

“When I have a 1,000 photos of a trip, and I can’t even bother going through them, it’s not going to be useful because I’m less likely to look at them,” says researcher Linda Henkel. “Photos and technology are wonderful but we have to use them well. We are overwhelmed by the mass that we have accumulated.”

And digital photos do not save you the agony of organizing photos; if anything, they’ve made the process exponentially worse.

At first, Peter Jon Lindberg saw digital photographs as completely liberating — it didn’t cost him money or space. But now he feels “like some guy in Storage Wars or Antiques Roadshow with stuff just piled up. It’s actually more overwhelming when you open up a folder, and oh my God, there’s 10,000 to 12,000 photos and maybe 400 are good.” Though he does organize and backup his photos, he doesn’t go back and look at them much because he just doesn’t have the time. At some point, that lack of reviewing brought him to a weird realization that “I might as well be taking no photos at all” since there’s no time for revisiting them.

Perhaps as a result, Peter has found his photo taking slowing down. Recently he was at a restaurant eating great food with friends, and said that six months ago, he would have documented the occasion ad nauseam and then posted a few. Instead, he didn’t take any. “At first, I felt a little guilty. ‘Oh wait, maybe I should be taking photographs.’ It’s still new to me to not take photos. Then it felt liberating and nice.” It was a conscious “rescuing” of his time on the front end knowing that he didn’t have to post them or use them for memory. “If I took 19 photos of my pasta last night, it’s not like I would remember it any better.”

Searching for Immortality

Sometimes photo taking and collecting gets to the point that it falls into the category of hoarding, according to Dr. Fugen Neziroglu, executive director of the Bio Behavioral Institute in Great Neck, NY. “It doesn’t matter that what is being collected is digital versus material,” she says. “It doesn’t matter whether you are hoarding in your home or your office or your car or a device. We are just technologically more advanced, that’s all.”

Driving that need to chronicle one’s life through photos is a fear of “losing that moment or memory,” Neziroglu says. “People are afraid they are going to forget that person or themselves in a situation. There’s an instrumental quality to it. ‘I may need it in order to remember, to show it to a friend.”

But what’s sadder than finding someone’s treasured family photo album at a thrift shop or on a trash heap? Photos are supposed to be insurance against being forgotten, but alas, there are no guarantees.

“There’s a fundamental concern people have about mortality,” says Richard Moskovitz, a Harvard-educated psychiatrist and author. “People want to make sure they are not forgotten. And if there are photos of them that are going to last indefinitely, then perhaps they won’t be forgotten.”

A “beautiful example” of this concept, according to Moskovitz, is the 2017 animated film Coco, based on the Mexican holiday — the Day of the Dead. In the movie, there’s an afterlife and people get to still have an existence as long as they are remembered, which is primarily through photos. The deceased characters are concerned that no one has put up a picture of them, and they are worried that as a result, they are about to fade into oblivion.

This captures the “magical thinking” we have about mortality, says Moskovitz. “The idea of being remembered and trying to guarantee that you are remembered through photos is a piece of this.”

In his retirement, Moskovitz has downsized several shelves of photo albums by having them digitized. The resulting online archives can now be accessed by his grown children. They can look at them or ignore them, he says, but his responsibility is now over. He also sent them a few favorite hard-copy prints. “Do what you want with them,” he instructed. “But if you throw them away, don’t tell me.”

Create Better Strategies for Taking and Storing Photos

  • Choose quality over quantity.
  • Don’t forget your other senses. If the event is not primarily visual, consider limiting photo taking.
  • Take photos without the social-media sharing goal in mind, then post later when you have time.
  • Experiment with taking fewer photographs to see if that enhances or detracts from your enjoyment.
  • Share photo taking responsibilities when possible.
  • Be considerate when taking lots of photos. Other people can be annoyed by overeager photographers.
  • Are you enjoying taking photographs and organizing them or has it begun to feel like a chore?
  • Organize your collection if you want photos as memories. Learn search and indexing features of storage apps.
  • Prioritize your best photos if you expect to have them preserved as heirlooms. Make prints of those that are truly exceptional. As formats change, prints are the ultimate back up.
Is All Our Photo Taking Worthwhile?


Amy Fries

Amy Fries is an award-winning writer and editor. She is a blogger on PsychologyToday.com and has written more than 50 articles for the health and behavior website AchieveSolutions.Net.

Her work has been published in The Washington Post, the Northern Virginia Journal newspapers, and in numerous consumer, trade, and nonprofit publications. She is also the author of Daydreams at Work: Wake-Up Your Creative Powers, published by Capital Books.

Amy received her M.A. in writing from Johns Hopkins University.

APA Reference
Fries, A. (2018). Is All Our Photo Taking Worthwhile?. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 24, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/is-all-our-photo-taking-worthwhile/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 4 May 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.