Deleted moments

I love the move to digital photography with its endless chances to get the shot right, and I delete the bad ones as I go along. When I sifted through a box of old, curled up family photographs, though, I realized all those deleted moments must have held some gems, and real history isn’t always composed just so.

In a film roll of 36 prints, I’d find at least a few good pictures, sharp and perfectly lighted, with a facial expression of my own I could tolerate, or my baby looking angelic, or a loved one’s eyes sparkling with affection. The other 33 pictures might be slightly out of focus, or have a head chopped off here, an angry expression there, or maybe a messy background that I didn’t want to advertise to the world. Those shots got stuffed into a drawer.

The rejects contained elements that it took decades to appreciate:

  • The kind of lousy shot of my parents with my son has in it my only photograph of the “Macquarium” my dad made out of an early generation Apple computer, a lasting reminder of his quirky ingenuity.

Macquarium, Apple aquarium

  • The series of pictures of me and my brothers sticking various numbers of fingers out reveals codes for the new camera settings my dad was experimenting with; as we goofed off, he earnestly took notes on the settings.

Brother secret code 1979

  • Dorky me, my dad, and my little brother pose with the heartbreaking Twin Towers looming behind us; to our naive selves it was unfathomable they could ever come down.

Twin Towers New York 1980

  • My brother and his curls that “grow so incredibly high,” as his beloved Beatles themselves might have described them.

Brother hair style 1979

Years after my father died I found an old camera with a half-used roll of film from an afternoon my kids and I spent with him in his backyard pool. I had switched to a digital camera and never finished the roll. After my nostalgic afternoon going through the drawer of old photos, I shot off the rest of the roll and dropped it off to be developed.

As I drove to the store to pick them up, I thought about how picking up developed pictures was a treat that’s been lost to the digital age. I would always rush through the photos looking for the surprises, the perfect iconic moments. Then I would go through again slowly, scrutinizing. I’d go through a third time, selecting the ones to save in a photo album, condemning the others to the drawer.

In the roll from my dad’s pool, there weren’t any hidden gems as I had anticipated. No unusual expressions captured, no special portraits of my dad. But I held the photos in my hands, and in those ordinary shots I saw my dad watching the boys see who could hold his breath underwater longer. He egged them on, as he had egged me on when I was small.

I saw a perfectly mundane afternoon by a backyard pool, one that was long gone and almost forgotten, and I was glad that those mundane moments weren’t deleted.

Boys underwater 2003


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About Marcy

I blog about trying to get out of my comfort zone, completing 101 things in 1001 days (and beyond), and writing my memoirs. My book: Timid No More.

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17 Responses to Deleted moments

  1. Pryvate Lisa says:

    It’s so true! I was about to delete dozens off my computer when I realized I couldn’t. I got more memory instead. Great piece.

    • Marcy says:

      I am ruthless when deleting the duplicates and less than perfect digital pictures, when I could never throw out the paper ones. It really doesn’t make sense when digital storage is so much easier than paper storage, yet there I am. Thanks, Lisa.

  2. Melony says:

    I miss those days of driving to pick up my photos after I spent countless hours taking shots and waiting for the perfect shot. There is something to be said about those times. Your photos remind me of all those of my family, the history behind them are so much more than those in the digital. Wonderful piece, as per usual!

  3. Cindy Reed says:

    I used to work in a drugstore and I remember how excited people were to pick up their pictures, standing at my register rifling through the stack while I rang them up. I could never bring myself to toss any, even if they were awful, or out of focus, or obvious mistakes – they cost money and they were tangible evidence that a moment existed. Like the Twin Towers photo, a punch in the gut years later.

    • Marcy says:

      I’m the same way with printed photos, but I delete digital ones like mad. Weird, huh? It seems rude to throw out a photo, especially if it’s of a person. Thanks, Cindy.

  4. Hema says:

    I’m so intrigued by that ‘macquarium’! That said, these pictures are priceless! Thanks for sharing them with us 🙂
    Hema recently posted..An EducationMy Profile

    • Marcy says:

      Thanks, Hema. I kind of wish I kept the Macquarium. It would be even more surprising now than it was way back when I had it.

  5. Wow. This made me want to cry. I’ve just gone through a rollercoaster of emotions with this one! Great job.

  6. Natalie says:

    I miss the days of film, for all the reasons you describe. Those reject pictures always tell a story all their own, which is why I kept them. Now, I feel so overwhelmed with the volume of photos I take. I try to be finicky about what I take, but it’s a tough temptation to overcome.
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    • Marcy says:

      It was always great having extra prints too. I used to make little books for my kids with the extra photos and some text written on index cards. It is easy to take a gazillion pictures now. I used to be selective because film and developing were so expensive. Thanks, Natalie.

  7. Gosh, I think about explaining to my daughter what film is and that back when I was young, you didn’t just take photos every day willy nilly. You waited for special occasions and were careful about spreading out your shots so you didn’t use up all your film too soon or (gasp) run out of flashes if you had an old camera that didn’t come with them built in!
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    • Marcy says:

      Yes, you only had one chance to get the smiles right and get everybody looking at the camera, or maybe two if you were really splurging. I haven’t thought about those old flashes in a long time.

  8. Abby says:

    What a treasure to find an old unfinished roll of film! I’m kind of surprised you found a place to get them developed. Love the shot of your boys underwater.

    Now, there’s no more anticipation of getting a batch of photos back from the developer. I remember volunteering at one of my kids’ elementary school parties. A fellow mom volunteer brought her 35mm film camera in for pics. As soon as she’d snap one, the kids all wanted to see it, and we had to explain that it wasn’t ready until the film was developed. They just looked at us like we were from another planet!

    Thanks for sharing these finds! What a great assortment, and… a “Macquarium”!

    • Marcy says:

      That’s a great story about the film camera! I used a typewriter sound effect in a video I made of students doing newscasts, and they looked around confused and said, “What is that noise?”

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