When do you stop trying to preserve the past?
I've been scanning my old photos for years now. The historian in me says, 'Scan these shots, as many as you reasonably can, and preserve them in digital form for the future. One day somebody (as yet unborn) will thank you from the bottom of their heart for doing this work.'
But there is so much to scan! And these are the best shots, with the dross already discarded. Even so, the quantity is overwhelming. All of them are trapped on old-fashioned film media, either transparencies (1965 to 1989) or prints (1989 to 2000). (After May 2000 everything was taken with a digital camera)
Ideally I would like to scan every shot that isn't already in digital form. But the scanning work involved would be huge. I took about 5,000 transparencies over the years, and still have some 2,500 left, of which only 200 or so have been scanned and converted into digital photos. I took about 23,400 pictures on print film, and still have 15,000 or so left, of which perhaps 3,000 - no more - have been scanned.
If we lump all the remaining unscanned shots together, whether slides or prints, we can say that there are - broadly speaking - 14,000 left to scan. Each one needs five minutes to process, including enhancement and captioning. That's 70,000 minutes for the entire job, or 1,167 hours. Meaning that if I throw ten hours a week at it, the job would still take me 116 weeks.
That's far too much time to spend on this kind of thing! I've lots of other stuff I need to get on with.
I could (and would) be ruthless, only scanning the cream of the crop. Here for instance was a box of prints - people shots - all ready to go this very morning. I hadn't selected many to scan, but even so this in itself represented a day's work:
And once done, there would still be all these other boxes to do:
Suddenly I felt that all this scanning just wasn't a good use of my time. Or anyone's time.
I put it all back up in the attic. Where of course it may now remain, unscanned, never to become part of my vast Digital Photo Archive.
Does this matter?
It's good to have an easily-found record of what people and events really looked like, because one's natural memory is untrustworthy. But if nothing in these old photos is affecting the present time, then it's arguable that no harm will be done by tossing the whole lot in the bin.
I can't bring myself to do that, not yet anyway, but I do recognise that at some point I may be compelled to jettison all my boxes of prints and transparencies, whether scanned or not. What will happen, for instance, when I need to clear my attic in order to install modern insulation?
In a strange way, the idea of throwing all those pictures away has its attractions. I would be free of an immense obligation to do something with them. I wouldn't need to find storage space for them. And I do in fact already have digital copies of all the key personal and family photographs. These are quite enough in themselves to conjure up the decades before I was born, and what has happened since. So do I really need the rest?
I'm sure there are literally hundreds of shots, not yet scanned, that are very interesting and worth preserving. But 'very interesting' is not the same thing as 'absolutely essential'.
Well, I won't do anything drastic, not yet, but I think the time has now come to stop resurrecting the past and to concentrate effort and full attention on what is happening now.
'Now' and 'the future' always trump the past.