Photo attachment: Have memories slipped away with pictures?

I’ve been dreading the phone call. It came this morning. Not good news. I have to keep reminding myself: Nobody has a tumor. Nobody’s sick. There’s no funeral to attend.

And still, I want to howl. I want sympathy. Most of all, I want my photographs back. All of them.

Mere days ago, I was wondering whether I should replace my external hard drive, the one that hums comfortingly next to my keyboard, the one housing all nineteen thousand of my family photographs.

(How is it even possible to have that many family photographs? I think it’s because iPhoto saves all the versions of your picture as you crop and otherwise modify it. Kind of like Mickey Mouse in Fantasia, with the metastasizing mops. In any case, that’s my excuse.)

The hard drive was operating just fine, but I had used up all of its 250 gigabytes of memory. So I set about deleting extraneous photos and videos in order to make room for more, all the while thinking: Hm… Should I buy a new external hard drive? And how about a second one just for backup? One of these days, maybe.

While I dithered, the hum grew louder. Within minutes, that hum turned into a growl. The library disappeared from iPhoto, and I discovered that my computer and the external drive were no longer on speaking terms. Time to call for help. I’d read about a data recovery company in California that rides to the rescue when it appears that all is lost.

As I packed up the hard drive in a thick blanket of bubble wrap for shipment to California, my biggest worry was the cost. Because a hard drive has to be opened up in a “clean room,” to avoid damage from dust, you’re talking serious money to recover data. (When people in moon suits have to be enlisted to help you get your files back, you know you’re in for a financial punch.)

The estimated price tag to recover the photos and videos was somewhere between $700 and $2,400. The thought of coming up with that kind of money kept me staring at the ceiling long after midnight. What price can you put on recovering family memories? (A hefty one, apparently.)

So many torn and cracked old pictures that I’d scanned and restored digitally, spending hours hunched over keyboard and mouse, fixing up images of people long gone, like an undertaker preparing the dead for viewing.

All the digital pictures I’ve snapped, adjusted, Photoshopped, and shared with friends and family. I’ve printed some of them, but not nearly enough.

As the bad news from today’s phone call is sinking in, I’m wondering whether the taking and keeping of so many photos might be a kind of hoarding.

Because it’s a digital phenomenon, there are no dusty piles littering my house, no mice nesting in stacked-to-the-ceiling boxes of jpegs. Nevertheless, I did have nineteen thousand photos and videos stuffed into that hard drive.

As I understand it, one reason people hoard things is because they don’t want to let go of the memory attached to the object. To throw away, say, a birthday card from 1975 is to discard the memory of the person who sent it. Even last-year’s newspaper or an old candy wrapper can provide, for a hoarder, the security of retaining an attachment to that day, to that moment.

And so it is with photographs. I want to remember these moments, all of them. My granddaughter wearing the paper-plate hat tied under her chin with pipe cleaners. My grandson posing on the front porch with his pint-sized fishing rod and the substantial bass he’d just caught.

I had no doubt that the guys in the moon suits would be able to recover some of my pictures. When I first talked to these experts, I was told that the noises my hard drive was making were the sounds of metal against metal, erasing some of the data on the drive. But there was a lot of data in there. Surely something could be recovered. So, I’d been doing some mental math, figuring out how to pay for recovery of what remained.

And then came the phone call this morning. There was bad news for the data recovery firm and bad news for me. The bad news for the moon-suit folks is that there would be no charge to me for their services.

The bad news for me is that there was absolutely nothing that could be recovered from that external hard drive. Not so much as a PNG or a TIFF.

The irrational question that lingers is the same one that haunts me when people I love have died: Where did they go? Where there was form, color, emotion – now there is nothing. With paper photos and human bodies you at least get some residue when the life has gone out of them. Ashes. Smoke. A corpse. But when your beloved digital files are destroyed, there’s nothing.

All kinds of bad news can come by way of a phone call from an expert. That’s why I’ll keep reminding myself today that nobody’s dead or dying. It’s just all those memories I can feel slipping away, like a fading photograph.
Free Union resident Janis Jaquith has felt her share of happy family memories.

Read more on: photgraphy


I thought of this same thing long ago when digital photography made its splash. No longer do we have photo albums. A simple lightning strike can wipe out your children's childhood photos in an instant. Its kinda scary.

A lightning strike and fire could have done the same before. In-fact now it is much easier to back up your images than it ever was with physical pictures.
In short: everyone back up your images.
I would recommend:
- an online back up system like Skydrive, dropbox or google drive that is linked to automatically back up your pictures folder.
- You should also regularly back your images up onto a thumb drive or other physical media and store that off site. A safety deposit box is a great place. I also know people who store a back up in their car.

Also, just because it is digital doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't print it.

That said i think the ease at which we can take pictures today make us value them less. Can you imagine how many pictures and how much information someone born today will have about their lives when they get old?

This is heartbreaking. I've always thought, if my house was burning down, the things I'd grab for sure are my family photos. Now though, after some big life changes, I am going through a LOT of old stuff, and have learned to let go more easily: the old cards, ticket stubs, vacation folders, samples of work I'd done, I can throw out. Photos though, yes it's different: but you're right: you've got your memories, for as long as you do. I'm also a photographer now, and have labored over and saved thousands of images. A lot are online, but not in an extremely permanent way. My hard drive crashed a few years ago, with no back up, but fortunately, a genius computer shop was able to save everything. So now I have a back up hard drive. It never occurred to me that that could crash, but of course, it can. Thanks to Logan above, because I am already checking out Skydrive.
SO I do sympathize entirely, hugely, but if you still have the people in those photos, that's what really matters.

This struck a chord with me...running to Best Buy, then searching for a cloud, backup, backup backup.......

I keep electronic photos AND print them for photo albums. There no substitute for sitting on the couch with the kids and looking through the album of photos of a prior family vacation.

This article is really being written in 2012, almost 2013? I can see this being an issue in 1998 - when digital photography was taking off, storage was still relatively expensive for what you got, and cloud computing as we know it today didn't exist. But seriously if you're not backing your stuff up in MULTIPLE places, you're an idiot. Sorry. It's cheap, fast, and there's no excuse. You lose an external drive - so what! It's on the cloud AND on your PC. You lose the drive on your PC, so what! You have the external drive and the cloud.

Hell, buy a solid state hard drive and put all your goodies in there. No moving parts to go bad. No hum. And by the way - your hard drive does not have 250Gb of memory. It has 250Gb of storage.

Time Machine and iCloud. You thought they were for....

Ms. Jaquith, I'm extremely sorry to hear of your loss, but maybe it will inspire others to start backing up.

With a Mac, it's extremely simple to create a fairly robust backup practice.

Go to the office supply store NOW and buy TWO external hard drives. They're ridiculously cheap, considering the amount of storage space they offer. You don't need fancy ones, since performance isn't an issue. Pick a model that has at least 50 percent more space than your computer's hard drive.

Hook one up with Time Machine. In a few hours, or days, when a full backup is complete, switch it for the second hard drive. Take the first one to your office. Or put it in the barn. Or even in the trunk of your car. Just get it out of your house (we are worried about a fire).

Once a month, switch them. (If it's cold, allow it to sit inside for a couple of hours to warm up before plugging it in.)

If you experience what we euphemistically call a "building access failure," you will have lost no more than a month's work.

Eventually one of these cheap external disks will fail. Throw it out and replace it with another cheap one (but first hit it with an axe, or drill holes in it, since it has all your private stuff on it).

NOW you can start thinking about on-line backup services.

I feel for you, I really do, but do you really have to write about yourself every week? You really aren't all that interesting. Get some common sense for Christmas too. Common sense would have gotten a backup system the day you starting putting all that crap on your computer....

HUH! ONline glasses shopping is seriously exciting!!!

Why does the Hook have this person ever write anything? If I wanted some mindless sexagenarian waxing lengthy, boring tales that no one could ever care about I'd visit the old folks home.

Why don't you ask your grandkids to do all this stuff for you? Oh, right, they're probably as clueless as you or don't want to be bored to tears by your rambling. Take that as a hint.

At the office where I work, we all very much enjoy these personal-story types of essays that appear in the Hook. As it happened, a few of us were not backing up our photos and were shocked to hear what happened to the author of this piece. We are in our 30's and 40's, and benefitted from this awful situation that happened to Ms. Jacquith. So, not everyone is as wise as the person who's not interested in such things!