I was probably a “one roll, four seasons” snapshooter before I became seriously interested in photography about twenty years ago. When I got my first SLR I wasted a lot of film on the banal, and when I bought a Nikon D70 the zero cost of taking pictures set me on the path to my current collection of twenty-five thousand photos. Most of them are not even fit for documentary or fond memories.
The first reason my hard drive is so full of pictures is a lack of skill. Especially in the early days, I made frame after frame of the same subject because I didn’t know how to compose or expose. I knew my photos weren’t good, but I didn’t know how to get a good one except by doing click after click and hoping that something would eventually work. Not being able to distinguish the decisive moment, I captured all moments. Monkeys and typewriters . . . .
The second reason I made so many useless photographs is that I was trying out a lot of things. Deliberate camera shake, different colour profiles, and so on. Experimentation is good, but I neglected to delete my failures. I couldn’t kill my darlings.
The last reason for the rat’s nest hiding under the Pictures folder is simply that I enjoyed making photos. I loved seeing images appear on the back of the camera or on prints back from the lab. Again, that’s a good thing, but I had no concept of editing. I didn’t know good from bad, so I kept everything. Just in case.
Luckily, being a more skilled photographer now means that I am not pointing the camera at everything and hoping that I get lucky. I’m more selective about what I put in the frame. And I’m starting to realise that one photo of a friend from a lunch date is enough. No need to document everything she ate and drank. I’m also learning how to edit better once I have the day’s photos on my computer. Mistakes get marked for deletion right away. After a week or so I generally have a good sense of what photos might be worth showing others or keeping for my own enjoyment. Or deleting.
That takes care of preventing a glut of pictures now and in the future, but there are still years and years of photographs from the past serving no purpose except to extend the time it takes to back up my hard drive. So I am using a combination of my sharpened editing skills and the objectivity of hindsight to cull photos from the present back twenty years and beyond. At the time of writing (2020) I’m only back as far as 2017, so I imagine it will take many more months to complete the project.
Although it’s a lot of work, editing my past photographs teaches me what mistakes to avoid in the future. It also gives me an idea of what sort of photography I do well and might concentrate on in the future. It also brings up memories of places and people past, for better and for worse. Sometimes I see people I had good times with and sometimes I see the faces of people I disappointed or parted on bad terms with. But I suppose there are lessons in those memories as well.