When my MacBook warned me that it was running out of storage room, my thoughts turned to the Photos app.

I had 20,000 pictures and 500 videos. Culling was necessary. I’d regularly get the message that I couldn’t download new photos from my phone because the app was overstuffed.

It’s a good thing that, when I set to work, I didn’t realize what a complex psychological process it would be. Culling has been “This is Your Life” since 2004.

Although, probably due to imported print photos that wouldn’t have time stamps on them, the app actually starts its dating at Dec. 31, 1 BC.

I appreciated starting my journey with a smile.

I questioned why I had 20,000 digital photographs, but I knew the answer. It’s easy and free to snap them. Film cost money, and if you ran out the roll you had to find some shade, remove the roll, put it in the canister and stash it safely away. Then you would open up the new package of film, take it out of the canister, put it in the camera, attach it, close the cover and advance the roll to the appropriate point.

I probably left something out. It’s been a moment.

Labeling and culling digital photos is the part that takes work. It’s much more fun to pick a few to post on social media, or send to a friend. And then forget about them.

Well, there was no point in scolding myself over my laziness. I had work to do.

I’d start at the beginning. The first shots were dated 1980, although they appeared to be from 2014. Maybe they were taken with a digital camera that didn’t have the date set up on it?

Soon, however, I moved into 2004, which is when I purchased my first digital camera. Before that, I had been very proud of my Canon single-lens reflex, which I’d owned since college. I remember buying it with money earned over the summer, and felt so mature to be graduating from a Kodak point-and-shoot. I took a photography course and learned to develop my own pictures. If I close my eyes, I can still smell the chemicals.

The chronological approach proved to be depressing, because my life can be delineated by dogs and cats. In those early photographs are Jack, Nellie, Alfie and Olive — all gone now. Saddest is the video I took of Malcolm, the only cat who has really loved me. I haven’t been able to watch it.

The amazing Clara, a bossy, crotchety tortoiseshell cat, lives on at age 18.

Tears in my eyes, I decided to delve in at various points instead. I could skim, and discard the low-hanging fruit. Multiple, nearly identical sea scenes, for example. By scrolling through the multiple photo view, I could spot these pretty easily.

Of course, I was going to get caught up in memories. My husband, Paul, and I took a long weekend trip to Newport, Rhode Island, in April 2005. There had been a colorful kite-flying event at Brenton Point State Park, with its spectacular views. Hmm, what’s this? A photo of me with a small brocade bag slung crosswise across my chest. It’s the same bag I’ve been using since the pandemic began, so I wouldn’t have to put my purse in shopping carts.

And is that the same denim jacket I wear several times a week? I enlarged the picture. Yup.

Sixteen years and still going strong.

Other questions were more difficult to answer. Why did you think that haircut was a good choice, Liz? Why are your jeans so baggy? How did you let yourself gain so much weight?

Luckily, I could at least update the last one: “Thank goodness you got rid of it.” The baggy jeans may still be lurking in a box in the storage loft.

My mother passed away in February 2009. I scanned in old print pictures to create a slideshow for the funeral reception. These are bittersweet. They bring both good memories and sad thoughts.

In January 2009, Paul and I had adopted a puppy from the Kennebec Valley Humane Society. She was tiny, all black except for a white stick figure on her chest. We called her Martha, because her big brother was a chocolate lab named Aquinnah, which is a Wampanoag place name on Martha’s Vineyard.

In her very first photo, Martha is lying on top of Aquinnah. Martha would continue to do so even as she reached adulthood and 35 pounds. She would lie atop Quinn until we had to say goodbye to him in February 2020.

I have so many photos of Martha lying on Quinn. Not only are they adorable, but they remind me of his quiet fortitude and eternal patience with her. I might be able to cull a few, but it’s slow going.

So many memories, so little computer storage space. I have an external disk drive. I’ve got the cloud. But I think I should continue to weed through the memories, to keep only the best ones.

That seems like a philosophy for life.

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected].


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