Why digital photos are robbing us of building precious memories

I stumbled across a baby photo the other day while sorting through things in the study. It was a studio shot, taken when I guess I was about 18 months old.

I am sitting up straight with a small ball at my feet, wearing a dress with smocking down the front, very fashionable for the times. How they managed to get me to sit still, let alone look at the photographer is a mystery.

The photo was still in the raised and edged frame that it was put in eons ago, somehow managing to survive move after move through my adult life. The photo was coloured after the event, touched up in the developer’s room, with hints of red around my lips and colour on the dress. Real colour photography was far too expensive for the likes of my family.

Expensive hobby

Now, if you too are of a certain age you won’t have many baby photos at all. Even into my late childhood, cameras and hence photos were expensive.

Most of my early years are chronicled through the once-a-year school photo, where we are lined up, row after row, tallest at the back, short ones seated on the ground or on the small chairs.

Our school class year was chalked on a small blackboard held by some luckless child in the front row. Maybe some of the names of our classmates are scrawled in childish print on the back of the photo.

As I became an adult, most of us could afford a camera but, even so, the cost of developing that film was not cheap.

How many of us were careful with what shots we took to only find when they came back from the developers, that they were blurred, or that most of the shots of people were far too distant and downright awful?

Pull focus

Our skills were poor and we had to wait weeks for the developing. Sometimes we put the film in the camera badly, or the film was exposed to light before developing and our results were just depressing blackness, overexposed and worthless. Moments lost to memory.

Then, of course, came our smartphones and digital photography to help us capture the absurdities of our lives. To say that this has revolutionised our photography would be a gross understatement.

We now extend our arm to snap selfies, we inundate social media with our faces, our food and our fantasies, believing the hype of influencers and their fads.

Now the quality of the camera in our phones has grown to the point of equalling if not bettering many standalone cameras. 

We take hundreds of shots, deleting the silly grin or the poorly posed shot, looking for perfection. We load our phone with photos and then pay to store them in the cloud. 

Weird contradiction

But there is a weird contradiction in all of this – do we look at them? It strikes me that this is the absurdity of the modern situation – we can take thousands of photos, records of our lives, but we rarely look at them and certainly don’t seem to bother with hard copy albums anymore. I feel that is a pity.

However, we are fortunate today to have endless photos and recall of our lives, denied most generations. We even have them as homemade videos, giving life to our bodies and remembrances of our voices and mannerisms. Now, not just our looks are captured for the future to stare at and to reminisce, seeing people in funny clothes. So, I am happy with the trend, just don’t capture my bad side or my bad hair day!

Do you have your baby album? Why did you keep it? Why not share your experience in the comments section below?

Also read: Why it’s the small things that make me feel grateful to be alive


  1. I have about 20 photo albums – wedding, baby photos, school photos, birthday parties, Christmas, holidays, boating, two albums of the 100 acre property we owned for 10 years, photos of our holiday house activities …. and so on – before we started taking them on the phone.
    Now they are stored in folders on the computer and backed up. I regularly have a look at the different folders, but rarely pull out the photo albums.
    Our daughter was visiting last week and wanted to look at various photo albums and took photos (of the photos) on her phone!

  2. Every photo tells a story. But is the story that the viewer is seeing the real story behind that photo? Looking through the photo album of my fathers from when he was in Wilcannia in 1929 to 1931, there are photos of him with his first car and, I assume, his first “girl friend”. This was at least 15 years before he met the woman that he would marry have have his three children. Apart from “Jo” written, in ink, under the photos, we know nothing about this young woman and where she went in life. We know nothing about their friendship.
    Today, the metadata under that JPEG (or RAW or HEIV) file there is the time and date that it was taken and even the geographical location (to the metre), but not who is in the photo and why it was taken.
    Do not trust the “Cloud” to be a permanent store and back-up your photos and store stably and repeat that back-up regularly as even the best storage medium has a limited life (for some unknown and subject to vagaries of the medium).
    Don’t be afraid to share via email with friends with anecdotes about the occasion and the people in them. Print out and display in your own home those that have special meaning.
    When an image has been committed to the internet, it may be forever and out of your control so one rule is, don’t commit to the WWW any photo that you wouldn’t want your mother to see. (Your mother may well have some hidden photos that she doesn’t want her children to see for that matter, so I guess it depends upon what sort of relationship we have within our families.)
    Colours change and contemporary digital cameras (including the smart phones) automatically apply complementary image enhancement in facial recognition. I have a friend that I have taken photos of with three different digital cameras (and film) and at times I look at the subtle differences and wonder how she manages to hide her twin away from me so well. How I see those photos of her varies from how she sees those photos of herself. But that’s just human nature.
    As her late Majesty apparently said “Recollections may vary.”

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