If a Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words, What Are a Thousand Pictures Worth?

My childhood is catalogued in drawers in my parent's house. Family photos sit in large manila envelops, organized by year. The farther back you go, the more likely you are to get a description written on the back.
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Somewhere, there is a picture of me, my sister and my cousin, in our pajamas, eating cereal (circa 1983). I remember it because it is one of the few pictures that isn't from a special occasion. It was not a holiday; we weren't doing anything special. We weren't on vacation, it was nobody's birthday, nor was it particularly snowy or sunny.

My childhood is catalogued in drawers in my parent's house. Family photos sit in large manila envelops, organized by year. The farther back you go, the more likely you are to get a description written on the back. Most of them are taken too far away or too close. Some of them are blurry. Some cut off people's head's or arms or feet. There are many red eyes. Family vacations, birthdays, school events, sporting events, out of the ordinary days are well documented on 4x6 matte paper. Ordinary days, filled with cereal, Saturday morning cartoons and maybe some kick ball in the neighborhood, exist only in my fading memory.

I have several pictures of my kids eating breakfast. I have pictures of special events and not so special events. In the past year, there are more days I snapped a picture, than days I did not.

Taking pictures is easy. Not only is it easy, but between Instagram filters and DIY photo editing, anyone can play amateur photographer. But has it become too much? I have over 1,000 photos on my phone right now. Just on my phone. One thousand pictures. I am afraid to delete them. What if something happens and photo #583 gets lost forever? The moment will be gone. Vanished like it never happened. But now, when someone asks me what happened on April 12, 2014 at 11:32, I can look back and proudly say, "We were feeding the fish."


Pictures verify our lives. They remind us of our reality. Or our warped our sense of reality. We all know by now that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and wherever else we are hoping to be seen, are not completely accurate. With every click, view and delete, we can write and re-write our story a thousand times. And maybe that's ok. We understand that all our easy editing and filtering, is an easy way to edit and filter our lives.

I recently read this article by a CNN travel editor who was arguing that pictures are ruining travel. Instead of just enjoying time swimming with dolphins, we're too busy fiddling with our cameras to make sure we document our time swimming with dolphins that we don't actually know what it was like. Ultimately, we aren't really experiencing our adventures.

A couple of days later, I read a post from a photographer who had recently, and suddenly, lost a friend. She insisted that we snap away because when our loved ones are gone, we'll want those pictures. All 3,000 of them. We'll want to see them again and again and remember everything - the curl of hair that always fell just so, the way they tilted their head, the life in their eyes.

Am I missing my kids' childhood because I'm too busy watching it from behind a camera? Have I missed out on life in Asia because I am looking for the perfect photo to commemorate it? Or are my one thousand pictures justified?

Maybe it's best to just have a few professional photos? I see all of yours, with your kids in cute clothes, with your husbands and wives in fields at sunset... and the pictures are beautiful. And I think, I should have some like that. It's been four years since my oldest was born and I don't have one professional photo of him with the perfect lighting, setting, smile... I have thousands of "a little too blurry," "why can't everyone look in the same direction?" and "is my house really that messy?!" photos. And somehow, I like these just as much (and may be the reason I like the security of having 1,500 mediocre pictures -- I don't have a Really Good One, but at least I have all these).

Not for a single second, never, not once, have I ever thought, I wish I Facebook existed when I went to high school and college. Do I feel bad that my college experience is not saved on my computer in thousands of jpeg files? Not at all. Do I sometimes wish that I had a few more pictures from which to reminiss? Absolutely.

Should I be picking up my camera more or less?

The very obvious and dull conclusion I have come to is: moderation and awareness. (The same answer for nearly all life's deep questions). Not all moments have to be (should be) caught on film. It's ok if I don't get the priceless picture because I lived the priceless moment. I enjoy browsing through my mediocre pictures of my mundane days just as much as special occasions. But maybe I could be a little more aware of what I am photographing and why. Maybe the editing we do in our own heads is better than any app could do.

I always felt like our family photos were something special. They weren't shared with hundreds of "friends" and the few good ones would remain in frames for years. But, unlike almost everything else in life, in spite of all the changes to how, when and where we take photos, there is still something just as special in a snapshot of one moment in time. All 1000 of them.

This post originally appeared on Avery Adventures.

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