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