Image Overload

Yesterday, I had a deep need to sit alone by the ocean and look at the water. Even though I live at ‘the coast’ – there isn’t really anywhere to do that nearby. So I got in my Vanagon and drove up to Haceta Head Lighthouse where I parked and looked out at the water. It was a rainy day again…sometimes it feels like the rain in Oregon this year will never stop…but even so, there were people coming and going – pulling in, looking, snapping a few pictures, and then going again. Most of them got out of the car for a few minutes at most, but a few were dedicated and spent more time finding nice shots. And there’s the thing – every one of them took photos either with their phone or with their camera. It’s a pretty spot and with the big bridge going over, the lighthouse, the little rock islands, the cliffs, the ocean, the beach, the river coming down – there are plenty of great photo moments to be had there. I don’t blame them – in fact – I took a couple of pictures too. Every person there took pictures. Every one (except for the little kids without cameras). It’s what we do.

I’m in the process of trying to sort my digital photo library. It’s no easy task. Over the past decade, I’ve had several external hard-drives that I’ve moved my photos to and from, a chromebook, a netbook, a laptop, a couple of digital cameras with memory cards, 6 phones with memory cards, and no shortage of great programs that were the previous solution to my photo organizing…I have an icloud account, a google drive account, and a flickr account as well as that google photos thing. I’m trying to get all my photos in one place and organized so I can enjoy them, share them, and preserve them.

I downloaded a little program to gather up all my photos – it did a search of my primary laptop and external hard-drive and gathered all the photos – unfortunately it has no way of knowing which are photos that matter and which do not. It found a quarter of a million photo files in a 20 minute search. Yes, 250,000 (give or take 5000). At first it felt hopeless, but then I realized that many of those files were duplicates that have been moved from machine to machine. Then I realized that many were photo files from websites I’ve built. Then I realized that there were quite a few I could get rid of. Over the past few days, I’ve been dedicating a lot of time to getting rid of the website files and the downloaded and duplicates (which happen when you move photos from machine to machine and drive to drive). I downloaded another little program that lists the duplicates and I’ve been deleting huge numbers of them. Unfortunately, early in this process I made the mistake of deleting a couple of files that had inadvertently had other folders dropped in them and I lost all of our family photos from 2013. I also learned that many devices use the same naming conventions and so you can’t just delete based on name (so long 2003) and that you need to find a program that looks at many factors. After days of work – I’m down to 58,000 photo files with approximately 10,000 duplicates. There are actually smart people who have created a business out of doing this sort of thing – digital organizing. They charge huge amounts of money but they probably don’t lose 2013 and 2003. So, I – and actually all of us – am drowning in digital images.

In the two hours I sat at the beach yesterday – there were probably 40 cars that came and went. Usually there were two people but sometimes there were four and infrequently there was one. So it’s a fair estimate to say 80 people. Most of them took 5-10 photos but some of them took a great many more. I watched people taking pictures of the other people taking pictures and since I was sitting in a scenic spot in a vehicle that most people feel a bit of nostalgia for – I was often in their photos. I think it is fair to estimate that I had my photo taken 50-100 times during the two hours I was contemplating the water. It sounds like a lot, but in truth, in 2016 a person living in the USA was caught on camera an average of 75 times per day. For a person in London that number jumped to 300 times per day. And, given that the rate of digital photos and surveillance cameras is still rising, that number is certainly rising.

I was particularly struck by something I noticed yesterday. People knew they were in a beautiful spot. They knew that there was something wonderful about being alive and in that particular place in that moment. I watched several people walk down the rocks in a bit of a daze, clutching their cameras, feeling the need to really do something. It’s my opinion, that what they needed to do was to just be. To be aware of actually being right there in that moment. To have a sense of actuality. To feel the mist of rain and the crash of the waves, to experience the cries of the gulls and the rumble of the ground. To sit and be present – for a moment. But ultimately, few of them seemed to do so – instead, they lifted their cameras or phones and clicked the shutter buttons. They saved the digital image – do a google search of haceta head and millions of images will come back to you. You can look at them all, but you will never get the feeling.