Skip The Picture Hoarding

1xfamilyscan (196)

I can understand your reluctance to share pictures of yourself. You might have put on weight, you might not have the Travolta hair from your youth, or you might look like Marty Feldman after a hard night of drinking tequila. Trust me, your friends and family who love you don’t care about any of that. Those pictures portray you as they remember you. Not sharing pictures because of your concern for your looks is a valid reason to hesitate, but one which shouldn’t overshadow the fundamental nature of life: moments are meant to be lived, words are meant to be heard, and pictures are nothing short of visual memories that stir us to honor and remember people and things that we’ve shared.

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The picture above captures the fun and happiness of life. It’s easy sometimes to focus too much on our potential embarrassment years later. We should ignore those issues and celebrate the “fun” of the picture – and resist the negative feelings that sometimes bubble up from strange places.


Case in point: this is a mug I had made for a friend of mine. Years ago, he dressed up as Britney Spears. He laughs about it now. He gave me the picture (on purpose!) so that I could scan it and make him a fun gift with the picture. Most people would never let such a picture out into the wild. But it’s fun and will always be a great memory for us both.


My dad, Bobby Dean Terry. I have seen almost no pictures of him as a kid. This one encapsulates perfectly his outlook on the world. Look at the quantity of laundry on the line! (Clues to how he was living…) There are many pictures of him in closets, albums, and dusty boxes – ones that I will never see or experience.

I’ve written 15 different ways about the need to share pictures at every opportunity. Not a week passes when someone doesn’t lose a phone, a camera, or have their house flooded or burned to the foundation, taking all the contained precious photos. (Or a family passes away and someone decides to restrict access to everything, effectively locking away precious memories from being shared.)
As much as possible, I’m a minimalist. The only things I hold to be meaningful are the sentimental ones, pictures foremost among them. All my pictures are backed up online. I can share them with anyone, and they are accessible from any device which connects to the internet.

I read a blog earlier in the year wherein someone had done years of family ancestry and picture gathering. Family members had asked the person to share as they went along the process. The person gathering the memories didn’t want to share them before it was “perfect” and also didn’t want some pictures to be shared, as they were of people or situations that didn’t cast the family in the best possible light. (Divorce, children out of wedlock- the usual secretive nonsense that EVERYONE already knows and gossips about anyway…) The house burned to cinders, taking a couple of thousand pictures, newspaper clippings and stories- mostly originals, to the grave. No digital archives were uploaded anywhere. The agony.

There is no perfection nor perfect moment in time – share pictures now and as often as possible, when they can be most appreciated. Even if they don’t cast us in the best possible light, they at least capture a moment of our lives. In time, some of these photo memories will become as precious as our last breath.

(One of the most fulfilling things in the word is watching people discover “new” photos of friends, family, and acquaintances. It is rare for me to look at captured memories and not feel a spark of curiosity and interest.)

john cook betty cook

John Austin Cook and Betty Ruth Cook, the grandparents of my grandfather Willie Cook. To look back and “see” the people I share with everyone else in my family is one of the best experiences in life for me.

grandpa his mom melvin cheryl barryThis picture was recently and graciously shared with me by a family member. My grandfather Willie is on left, his mom on the right. Over 400 people shared this picture in the first 3 months it was on ancestry. Several commented on how few pictures of my great-grandmother (Nanny Malone) were in existence and how valuable it was to them and their families. I can’t imagine that it will ever disappear now, even as time erases our emotional connection to the people in it.

Several weeks ago, I was talking to an acquaintance and he commented that two or three years of the lives of his kids were on his phone. No backup, of course. I immediately told him to hook the phone to a computer at his earliest convenience and make a copy to another device, or to go to his phone store and ask how to set it up for automatic upload. He still hasn’t done so, a testament to our mistaken belief that we will always have time to do what we should be doing.

I’ve written over and over about how dead simple some of the backup services are. Once you set up an account, you don’t have to do anything- technology assumes control and quietly backs up all your pictures, videos, contacts, and anything else you might want to another location. Why do people not see their friends and family in agony over the loss of their pictures and use it to motivate themselves to immediately take action to prevent the same loss?

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Pictures such as those above: they capture a moment of frivolous family fun, capturing both the essence of holidays and childhood memories. The gentleman on the left in the first picture is probably watching TV or playing an ancient video game. He didn’t know he was being captured in a moment of history, one which I would add to a blog 30 years later, after his brother, the goof holding the belt, had passed away, leaving his most important footprint of shared times together. We leave our friends and family, but pictures bridge us back in time to moments. A picture is as powerful as a song to play our heartstrings. When people we cherish pass and leave us, pictures are the most bittersweet song imaginable.

I don’t understand the reluctance to share pictures. Unless you have a hoard of pictures that are intended just for you and you alone, they should be available to everyone who might have an interest in seeing them. It is a rare person who doesn’t enjoy and relish the chance to see pictures of people they know or love.


When new people see pictures for the first time, it is very likely that it will spark memories that you never knew or had forgotten. They are portals to moments in time. If they are unshared, the memories might as well be written in a leather-bound journal and then incinerated without further reflection.

aaa  uncle buck scanned (77)Me as a teenager, after I lost a lot of weight. The weight found me again later, but I was optimistic that year, even though circumstances in life were not joyous during that time.

Yet, there is probably an album in your hall closet or in a plastic bin in your attic. It probably contains memories that you alone have copies of. Or under the coffee table, rarely looked at.  Or on a camera card or flash drive in the desk. Your intention might be to give them to a family member later in life or upon your death, but life has a way of bypassing your good intentions and taking things away from you, independent of your schedule. You might tell yourself every so often “I’ll finish that project at some point.” Those memories? Lost. If you aren’t even infrequently taking the pictures out and going back in time to remember, you are doing a disservice to both the photos and memories by not giving them to someone who can appreciate them.

julia and billy jack dicksonThis picture survived several calamities and certain destruction. But what a great picture it is!  It’s a picture of Julie Easley Adair and Billy Jack Dickson. I spent hours and hours rescuing and cleaning hundreds of pictures just as valuable to the family members. Many of them turned out to be very valuable to a local genealogist who downloaded all of them from my archive so that she could not only inventory who was in the pictures, but to preserve them for local history clues. These pictures ended up touching many lives – once they were rescued from their molding family albums and boxes where they were slowly dying.

I often say that I love pictures, but hate photography. So much personal photography becomes a distraction for the moment rather than a shared reminder. The process sometimes overpowers the moment in life being captured. And I still prefer spontaneous pictures to posed, people instead of places. While most people dread the hours of scanning, labeling and storing, I like it. There is a satisfaction of discovering new memories and the process isn’t tedious to me. But because most people aren’t like-minded, there are pictures everywhere that I will never see, pictures that might as well be lost today instead of waiting for some future calamity to take them. Pictures of my grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, co-workers, classmates, even me.

I have tried to share every new memory captured in photos. It is almost a compulsion to remind myself that a picture isn’t real unless other people see it and can have it. The digital age has reduced everyone’s argument about the complexity of making their pictures available. Even if you personally aren’t able, there is someone in your family who would gladly do this for you.

(Sidenote: My wife and I dated when we were very young. I can remember 2 or 3 times when our picture was taken together. Where those pictures went is uncertain. They were probably lost with so many other things. What I wouldn’t give to see one of those pictures again! If only we treated pictures as invaluable memories.)

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My cousin Jimmy and his son. I made a Spongebob pillowcase for his son, one which he treasured like nothing else in the world. Jimmy accidentally burned it in the microwave one night, as his cancer medication had fuzzied his brain. I tell that story because it’s a great story which highlights the craziness of life and the importance of pictures.

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Fun, pure and simple. My wife in one of her rare moments of letting me capture her goofiness. She claims it is always me being the weird one, but sometimes she hits one out of the park.

If you’ve taken the time to take a picture or to obtain one for safekeeping, please, for the love of god, share it with someone else whose dedication to preservation will ensure that it is shared before being lost. Not with someone whose intention is to cherish and share the pictures, but with someone who has both the time and inclination to be the guardian of the pictures. Sharing them doesn’t take them away from the original owner – nothing is lost. I might have a couple of original pictures in the house. Literally only a couple. All the rest are reprints from digital. Nothing is left to foreseeable chance. If calamity does strike despite all my effort, then I know that my loss was not something I should shoot myself over.
I know many people who talk about how valuable their pictures are to them, yet they never look at them, back them up, or share them with people. If someone like me asks to borrow the pictures and guarantee their preservation, I sometimes get a shocked reaction, as if I am accusing them of witchcraft. Pictures are like love: the more you share, the more there is.

As I age, I find myself getting frustrated with people who aren’t sharing their pictures. Not sharing is the first step in the unwritten recipe for loss. If someone has a picture of you or that you find meaningful, ask them directly if you can borrow it to copy it or if they can make you a copy, scanned or reprinted, in a given amount of time. If they say “no,” I’d be surprised. There’s no good reason for someone to say “no” to such a polite request. (It’s their right to say no, of course!) Moments in time are meant to be shared. Share them or otherwise you’ve done nothing that will extend the joy of that moment past your own life.

When someone dies, the first thing I think of is of the pictures surrounding this person’s life. When my Aunt Ardith died and then her son Jimmy died soon after, it bothered me to see how the most valuable asset among them – pictures – were mistreated and hoarded. Many were lost forever, including countless hours of videos. I would have stepped up and copied all of it for my cousin’s family and his surviving son, and archived them all online for preservation. Literally anyone and everyone would have been able to enjoy the vestiges of his life through pictures. Instead, many pictures were hoarded and lost forever. Luckily, there were a couple of great people who shared what was available, without reservation. My cousin had many friends who had pictures who didn’t share them. In a fair world, those would have been gladly handed to me. I would have scanned them and then reshared them with the world, making everyone a beneficiary of all the known pictures. Everyone wins. Instead, there are pockets of invaluable pictures in little corners of the world, slowly being forgotten, relegated to hall closets, attics, and boxes underneath beds. With time, people will forget who these pictures represent.

Jimmy Terry Portrait no sealMy cousin, Jimmy Terry. Everyone loves this picture. It was cropped and made using a picture I snapped of him when he wasn’t ready, outside a now-defunct restaurant. A local photographer did his magic and this picture was not only Jimmy’s obituary picture, but also made into a mantle photo. You never know when a picture is going to be valuable or provide great memories.

As an example, the picture below looks strange, but you never know who might find it valuable in the future. There’s a lot of information in it, if you have a hint or clue where to start. It captures perfectly a period in someone’s life. In a given context, it might not be valuable to me, but for the person in the picture or his friends and family, it might be. You never know and that’s why you should share all the pictures you can – while you can.

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If it sounds as if I’m lecturing, yes, I guess I am. Pictures are probably the most valuable thing on the planet to me. You can put me in a cramped apartment and make me eat a bland diet, but a life without pictures and memories is a life not worth remembering. Amen.

10 2012 dawn scan (163) DSCN0014 joe buss in school

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