Slightly organised photo floor-takeover

I have failed to complete my July photo challenge in time.  I’m on a bit of a roll though and hope to (sort of) finish two or three days late.

I took the photo to illustrate where I was in the photo-sorting process at the end of July.  Since then I have made use of an excess of A4 plastic wallets and small coloured stickers.  Most photos are now either in their correct year pile, awaiting confirmation from friends as to when they got married/when certain holidays were taken, or are in their “probably that year” pile. 

I have not felt inspired to sort them for albums or display, though a lot of my favourite holidays and experiences are already in albums and my digital photos are sort of dealt with by being in albums on my computer. 

I separated photos into 22 years, ending in 2014, which seems to have been the last year I printed a load of digital photos and used one of my film cameras.

Quite a few people who know I’ve been trying to sort photos have said that they want to do this but that they imagine it would take too long.  I have wanted to do this for years and ended up thinking that if I set myself a challenge within a month, I would stand a chance of completing it.  I also predicted I would feel nostalgic and melancholy, which I was kind of dreading.

Although I’m writing this before I’ve finished, it hasn’t gone at all how I expected.  I decided to sort them chronologically, which would have been fine had I heeded my mum’s advice to always label and date photos.  There then materialised some obvious groupings, eg I lived in Japan for two and a half years and the photos that aren’t in albums are nigh on impossible for me to date, so a “Japan years” plastic wallet (wallets) now exists.  Likewise for my time at university in Reading and then Mississippi and for the years I had a very sociable allotment.

I have thrown out hundreds of photos, mainly out of focus, of (uninteresting) location unknown and generally awful/repetitive ones.  I still have hundreds more though. 


Time-wise, I didn’t get going until almost half way through July, so in some respects it’s not surprising I didn’t finish.  I started in earnest by taking them all out of packets and piling them up.  I then spent a few days pondering the task of sorting them as impossible.  I wrote out a year on a piece of paper for the years I figured needed sorting, 22 of them, and started trying to sort them into piles within the years.  That was when I started emailing and texting a lot of friends to ask when they got married, had children, when we went on holiday, etc.  It’s been a very good month for catching up and reminiscing with a few people I hadn’t been in touch with for a few months or so.  I then sorted them into events or sort of clusters and wrote a sticker to go on the plastic bag for the event.  This hasn’t amounted to as much labelling as it might sound like occurred and was one of the easiest aspects of dealing with the chronology.

Surprisingly, I haven’t dwelled on certain pictures or the joys of my rose-tinted 20s, but I have found it interesting how large some piles are compared to others.   My largest piles of photos, a lot of which are travel photos, have actually been in my 30s. 

Another surprise is that, looking at friends more than me, a lot of them, the vast majority, look better now they’re older than when I first met them in their teens or early 20s.  Looking at them from a chronological perspective is really interesting.  I can see individual styles forming and it’s really unexpected and fascinating to see.  Pretty much all of us have gone up and down in weight too and it’s also interesting to see how much of a difference that makes to who looks best when.

To feel I have completed the challenge, albeit now late, I would like the rest of them to be in the labelled plastic wallets (eight years to go) and back in the dreaded huge white box that there is no way I can now abandon!  However, I don’t feel inclined to do anything with the photos and I feel more detached from these photos than I could have imagined possible before starting this.

Once I’ve thought more about my emerging controversial thoughts on photos, I think I probably will do something with a few of the photos; I just don’t know what yet.

For my August challenge, as I will have little or no work, I thought something suitably holiday-esque would be in order and, as I’ve been trying to read the same book for three months, I decided to read for at least 30 minutes every day in August.  It may not sound like a challenge but, now I have a shorter commute than from either Folkestone or Whitstable, when I read most mornings and evenings, I barely read now and I have never been good at reading at night time because I’m always sleepy and neither want nor need to read.  I am too good at using free time just sitting and staring into space so maybe this will get me using my sitting and staring time more productively.  Surely I can’t fail this month’s challenge?!


I am perilousl­­­­y close to smugness as, yes, I can now reel off the 199 capital cities I decided to learn for June’s challenge. 

Not only do I now know the capitals but, after about two weeks of not being able to retain the names of about a third of the capital cities, I realised that attempting to establish a photographic memory was futile.  I then started to be a bit more creative with my connections.  For example, Palau, being an island in the midst of the Pacific must surely be muddy, thus the capital is Negerulmud.  Similarly, I could not get Podgorica in my head as being the capital of Montenegro.  In the end, I got it with “-gro” as being key and I did grasp that the capital was then PodGORica.  Tenuous at best, but it worked.

I am ludicrously pleased with myself and have been informing people of the capital of countries they mention.  I suspect this could be considered annoying.  Bring on the quizzes and obscure capital questions … while I can still remember them, rather than just remember that I used to know them.

At the beginning of June, I convinced myself I would never be able to retain the countries and corresponding capitals, let alone spell them.  Around about week two/three, it suddenly clicked into place and I have enjoyed the learning process, despite it being a straightforward, uncomplicated memory challenge.

DSC05651For July, I want to deal with another kind of photographic memory, as I plan to sort through a massive box of my photos.  I have photos in various places but, as this box is so big, I want to be fairly realistic and just aim to sort through that.  That will mean sorting them into categories, most likely: throw; put in an album; frame; keep in packets.  I am not going to aim to do the framing, album-making, etc, by the end of July, just get them ready. 

In an ideal world, this will lead to the rest of my photos being organised at a later date and some DSC05650albums/pictures created.  Unfortunately, I predict bouts of melancholy about the passing of time, how slim/young/carefree etc I used to be.  However, a bonus would be to get rid of the enormous box they’re in to make some room in the far-too-full cupboard (I may even be shamed into addressing the accessibility issues with the cupboard) in which it currently occupies almost half the spare floor space.   


During my mini meltdown day last Friday, I also had to have a recent passport photo taken.  Having sorted through some old photos a couple of weeks previously, I found lots of my passport photos, but it was apparent that none of them could pass for less than six months old, and I’m not just referring to the drastically shorter hair styles because neither would I want to have to use them again (see above photo montage)!  So I decided to economise and get Chris to take photos of me, knowing that I had a programme on my PC that did passport photos … or at least it was there when Chris had needed passport photos for a visa application three years ago!

The photography did not go well.  For starters, it was late in the afternoon and the only rooms with cream walls (others are bright pink, red, blue/grey – that sounds dreadful!!) did not have as much light as I felt was necessary.  The best wall is only about 1.5 metres high before it slopes so there I was squatting on the ground, Chris with his dicky knees trying to take the photo and me in foul mood and not loving the moment!  As Chris was precariously balanced, most photos were blurred and there was some dreadful shadowing on one side of my face.  Plus, worst of all, even by passport photo standards, the pictures were sullen, unflattering mug shots that did nothing to better my mood!

In the end, I decided, despite it only being a visa photo, that I would apply a bit of make up in an attempt to look less grey and miserable.  By this stage, we were on about round six and my photographer was getting tetchy about having to kneel or crouch to take photos and my legs were starting to shake from the effort of trying to keep still while crouching.  However, there was one photo that was in focus and which had repairable shadowing.  So I opened it in Photoshop with a view to making it look better, magazine miracle style!  I spent almost an hour fiddling with it but it was the aligning of the background colour that made it all go horribly wrong for I used the magic wand to lassoo areas.  I ended up looking marginally better but, on close inspection, looking very much like I’d been ham-handedly cut out and stuck on a sort of cream-coloured background.  It was the hair that looked strange.  But I was still willing to put it to use, in the name of economising, etc.  Could I find the passport photo template thing?  Could I heck!  Could my already stroppy printer have managed to print a photo without daubing the photo with its gibberish?  Could it heck!

So in a veritable flounce, I announced we would be walking to collect my disgraced car via the photo booth in Boots.  As you can see, the photo booth photo is also fairly bad, in keeping with the dreadfulness of passport photos, but despite the distress of seeing my shoulders look so broad and my fringe in such disarray (seriously, that was by far the best of the three attempts I was allowed in the booth), I don’t look quite as pissed off as I did in the ones Chris took.  Plus, there is something a little flattering about the harsh light, ie my “character lines” were a lot less defined in the photo booth photo.  As for the other passport photos above, I have no idea when they were taken but they are all terrible.  Now I know why so many of my photo ID things have the same photo on them: I once managed to get a decent passport photo so used them all!

                Last night I had the questionable pleasure of watching and listening to someone trying to make the transition from digital cameras back to film camera.  It wasn’t pretty and there was no happy ending.  I too have made a partial return to film cameras and have taken quite a few rolls of film.  But I haven’t developed any of them.  I was initially put off when I took them into Boots and was told it would take up to 45 days.  Really?  45 days have long passed and I could have had them by now, though I have since been told that other High Street shops are much better.

                Why did we go digital?  It’s easy, isn’t it?  You can take a photo and distribute it within seconds.  You can take ten photos of the same thing and choose the best one to print out, if indeed you ever get around to printing them out.  It seems easier to manage photos on a computer than in packets and albums.  And having cameras on mobile phones means that pretty much everyone has a “camera” to hand.  It’s great and I probably have more photos of friends and random things I see and like than in the days when I would make a decision to take a camera with me.  But while film is much less convenient and, I’ve recently discovered, people seem momentarily confused that they can’t view the photo they’ve just had taken of them, the anticipation of getting your pictures back is wonderful.  Though I can’t really talk as I just have a row of film canisters awaiting printing.

However, the main reason I am enthusiastic about a return to film (for photo opportunities rather than to carry around every day) is that I think the quality is still better.  I have a very good digital camera, a Nikon D700, but it still isn’t as good, though of course there’s PhotoShop.  Hmm, another issue really!

My friend last night was trying to load a 120 film into a fantastic Lomography Diana F+.  It turns out it wasn’t his incompetence but a possible fault with the camera, annoyingly.  I like Lomography because they are embracing the concept of film being fun, of being experimental.  I too have one of their cameras, it takes four photos in one photo, all a split second apart.  It’s not supposed to be a great quality photo, rather a fun and different photo.

I know there are lots of great things about digital cameras and photographs and how easy it is to share your photos via email, etc, and I will never not want a digital camera, but I have had fun going out and actually taking photos with my film cameras.  I have actually enjoyed spending time trying to get it right, instead of just pointing and clicking a few times, knowing that one photo should come out well and if not, well I can crop it/enhance it, etc.  Now I desperately want to get my photos developed!  I may change my tune slightly when they all come out blurred (one camera I’ve been using is manual focus and I’ve already “lost” an entire film by not loading the film properly!) but, delightfully, I can’t remember what photographs I’ve taken, beyond knowing where I was for some of my recent photo trips!

                I am trying to organise my digital photos.  This is an epic time-consuming endeavour and I haven’t even got around to sorting through ones I’d like to print. When thinking about what I’d save if my home were burning down, beyond any humans and my cat, it’s photos I always say I’d save.  I suppose if I were really clever I’d have them saved remotely, but that’s not what I’ve been thinking about to trigger this post.

                My photos are my proof that I looked the way I did, that I did certain things and they are, perhaps most significantly, an aide memoire for people and experiences.  I have two areas of my lounge wall taken up with photos of friends.  Most people who visit have looked at and commented on the photos, whether of themselves or other people.  I love those photos, though in part because they are testament to the fact that at times I can galvanise myself into action and do things, from getting the photos printed to actually putting them up.

I know that a lot of my childhood memories are triggered or enhanced by photos.  My parents took a lot of slides and photos when I was growing up.  Sometimes I worry that my memories are based around certain photographs rather than what I remember.  But even if that is the case, it’s lovely to have that memory trigger.  I would feel a large part of my past had been erased if I lost all my photos and maybe it would more often make me call into question my memory for their would be no proof to certain things.

Nowadays, despite having a selection of digital cameras, film cameras and a mobile phone camera, I don’t take that many photos.  It seems a bit of a chore sometimes to take pictures.  But then I look at photographs I did take and I’m pleased I did and wish I’d taken more.

Sometimes when I go on holiday I don’t take a camera with me because I feel that without a camera I see more.  I went through a phase of feeling like I saw events through a camera lens rather than with the naked eye; no photograph can ever, I think, capture a moment like your memory especially if it’s a fleeting sight that is never going to translate well as a distant blob in a photo.  Your memory may alter events as time passes, but sometimes, so what.  My seeing dolphins leaping alongside the small boat I was in off Bali could never have looked as good through a lens as it did sitting there bobbing on the sea, with the sun rising, hearing the water break as they moved.  I have heard myself describing a magical sight and feel that the recipient has got a sense of my awe.  I have then showed a photograph of the same thing and felt people kind of sink, probably thinking, “Oh, was that it”.

I think photos of yourself are fantastic.  You can look back on rose-tinted years and see they weren’t so perfect, you can look back at yourself knowing you thought you were unattractive or pudgy at that stage and realise you weren’t and you can see how you change.  It’s fascinating.

I like to think I have a photograph of everyone I’m friends with on my wall, maybe it’s to remind me who and why my friends are who they are, maybe it’s to remind me of good times (it’s not like you take photographs of horrible things, and even if you did it’s unlikely they’d make it onto a “happy wall”) or maybe it’s to project an image of who you are, or at least who you’d like to be, that person laughing with a group of friends for example.  I have one such photo, taken about 12 years ago.  I know it’s not the most commonly witnessed version of me but I am sitting at a dinner table in Japan in the middle of four or five others.  I have clearly said something hysterically funny because everyone is laughing and looking at me, the originator of this great witticism.  That may not be the me witnessed on a daily basis, but it’s nice to see on my wall, and it is a snatched moment in time.  I sometimes like to think of my life, of our lives, based on moments in time.  That way, the bad stuff can be archived and the funny, fun and warm moments can be engrained in our memories forever, a kind of best-of summary!

I went through my old photo cupboard at my mum’s yesterday.  These were photos taken way pre-digital cameras, so even the rubbish photos were printed out.  Sometimes, going through old photos makes me feel sad.  Yesterday (and last night, as I brought some home with me in an old case of mine) I found it a thoroughly cathartic exercise.

Of course I looked at my slim self and wished I were slim again, but at least that is do-able to an extent.  I may have been fresh faced and youthful looking but when I look at people that age (these were largely from age 16 to 23) I think how young they are and how much more experience will be embedded in their face in a few years, in a few decades.  There is more to read in people as they get older.  I like this.

My university photos are largely slightly debauched, silly, fun photos taken on disposable or cheap cameras.  But I’m glad my life isn’t like that anymore.  Though of course I look back at those photos with very happy thoughts.

I didn’t like school so I don’t get as smiley faced about those photos, most of which were taken around GCSE and A’ Level time.  Particularly the A’ Level ones, we all looked like we felt really grown up.  Yet we were really only just at the beginning of becoming the adults we are now.

’90s fashion really didn’t do wonders for me.  I over-embraced baggy, even wearing men’s t-shirts and jackets.  Gutted.  The time when I was slim, the fashion was big.  Now I’m bigger, the fashion is slim fit.  It’s all wrong!  Oh, and my hair.  At 18 it was long and highlighted (sort of) and didn’t suit me.  Actually, most hair cuts I had look awful.  I have a sneaking feeling I used to apply lemon juice to my hair (sticky) and leave the sun to do its work.

There are lots of photos where I am clearly trying to be cool.  It’s so uncool to be trying to look cool when you aren’t cool.  To be fair, it wasn’t just me in the photos trying and failing to look and be cool but I’m certainly not going to name and shame anyone!

The photo at the top in Avignon is one of my favourite Inter Railing photos (we don’t have many as our cameras got stolen early on, complete with completed films in my camera bag).  Maybe I knew Ruth was taking the photo but for me then that was a relaxed pose.  We had so many adventures on that trip!  But there’s no way I’d want to do that kind of travelling again.

The other photo is hideous.  It was taken in New Orleans, Mardi Gras 1995.  That was the most debauched I’ve ever been.  I will have been partying for quite some hours (days!) and a lot of beer will have been consumed and those beads were earned!  I still have that hoodie, it’s one of two tops I can’t bring myself to throw out, in part because it’s still too big for me!  That bob did nothing for me.  I don’t like that photo but it illustrates my point about photos of you trying and failing to look cool!  I expect I was drunk and exhausted.  But I had a fantastic time!  Actually, in my defence, looking at what I was wearing, I really don’t know that I was even trying to be cool and that’s probably exactly how I looked at the moment that photo was taken!

This is the first time I’ve looked at those particular photos (ie the ones in that cupboard) and not felt a bit of melancholy for times gone by.  Instead, it’s made me feel good about who I am now and it’s made me want to take more photos of friends and things I do now I’m a proper grown up.  Ish!

et cetera