I was thrilled when my cousin recently shared a photograph where my father poses with all his eight siblings. They were in their fifties and sixties when it was taken. A festive air permeates the photograph. They are basking in the winter sun, delighted to be with each other. Front-row center belongs to the eldest aunt and uncle; younger ones stand behind. While everyone else looks at the camera my eldest uncle is turned halfway towards his sister. Knowing them, an animated conversation had been interrupted by the photographer.
Six of these nine siblings have since departed. Four decades later I wonder: did they know that this 1/500 of a second, snatched from the jaws of time by a mechanical device, would be a precious witness to their entire big, close-knit, affectionate family for their descendents to look at with pride but also with sadness?
In 1984 I photographed Dadu, my paternal grandmother (Mrs. Zobeda Khatun), then towards the end of her life. In the photographs I can sense that she was posing for posterity, that she felt she would be remembered by these photographs. She looks serious and inspiring – as if she wants her lifetime of pioneering political struggle for Muslim women to be passed on through the photographs, like the baton in a relay race. Is that how we always pose – thinking "how will I be remembered"?
Through the old photograph we see ourselves growing up, becoming older and perhaps wiser. But does it also portend things to come? The astute look in the eye of a young cousin foreshadows her superlative accomplishments as a surgeon. Another cousin's astute expression during an office phone call predicts his success in business. And at the start of her political career, an aunt's demeanour parallels Dadu, her politician mother.
And so this is what an old photograph does: it runs away with our imagination. But in our cold hard reality old photographs pose an organizational challenge.
The album was the traditional way of organizing photographs. When you processed film at the lab they returned the photographs in a handy album which you could flip through. Bigger albums were stored with care. I remember when my parents and siblings would pull one out and gather around it, commenting on a pretty sari, a full head of hair, or the inevitable "(S)he looked so much thinner (or heavier) back then!"
Few maintain photo albums today. The organization and sharing of old photographs is all digital. Turning an old photograph into digital has become easy using the phone camera. But a year or two later the scanned photograph is nowhere to be found unless it was organized properly.
Probably the easiest way to organize the photographs you scan with your phone is to upload them into a private album in Facebook, or a private account in Instagram or even Twitter. That way, you can access them easily even after upgrading your phone or laptop.
If you are more hands-on, you can use a content management system such as Lightroom to manage the photos on your computer or phone. This way the photographs are under your complete control. But every time you upgrade your computer or phone, there will be some hassle. Once organized, backing up in an external drive or the cloud will protect against catastrophes.
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