Why Do People Take Pictures?

A Box of Old Photographs

Our boxes of photos live long after we are gone, leaving our descendants to ponder over them or throw them out.
Our boxes of photos live long after we are gone, leaving our descendants to ponder over them or throw them out. | Source

Why Take Pictures?

A photograph is merely an image captured on paper or in a file. It is ephemeral. It's only importance is the value someone puts on it emotionally or monetarily. Many photographs taken before the days of digital photography still languish in boxes which are passed to future generations to sort and preserve.

As one who has inherited several boxes of such family history, I can testify that many of these pictures have no meaning to me except that they were important once to someone I loved or my husband loved. There are unlabeled scenes from far away places where I know my dad worked. There are his coworkers I never knew and his mother's and father's ancestors. As I go through the albums my husband's parents left to him, I see buildings in Europe and groups of colleagues that were important to his dad, and beach pictures from I know not where of people whose names I do not know. I would like to know their stories, but I probably never will. Many of these pictures will be tossed because they have no meaning for us.

Why do we take so many pictures? Most people have a camera of some sort with them everywhere they go. I know I do. I use it , too. I have taken thousands of pictures since I got my digital camera, and hundreds in the days of film. Many are in boxes, waiting for someone to dispose of them after we are gone. They are ephemeral. Only what's on Facebook lives forever, or until Facebook is gone.

So why do we take all these pictures to post on social networks, paste in albums or send to online albums, or just leave in their boxes to be sorted someday? I would submit it's because those pictures are proof we have been here, a representation of ourselves we want to leave for those who have loved and and whom we love, and an aid to others in understanding who we were and who they were in relationship to us. Looking at the pictures and organizing them are also ways we try to make sense of our lives -- our personal history and our significance in the world. A close look at the pictures can reveal who loves us, whom we love, where we've been, what we've accomplished, what we've overcome, what we like to do, and where our imagination takes us.

One of our First Family Outings

We went to Disneyland, a pilgrimage all parents with children seem to make in their lives if they can.
We went to Disneyland, a pilgrimage all parents with children seem to make in their lives if they can. | Source

Photos Document the Stories of Our Lives

In the days before digital photography, we took a lot of pictures of our children, our life together and the places we went as a family. Each child was given his own album for these pictures and his or her own copy of the photos that turned out best. We had family albums in the living room, and the children kept their personal albums in their own rooms. We discovered as time went on, the children often perused these albums. They contained not only the pictures I took, but they also contained the pictures of their birth family contributed by the social worker and family members the children were still in touch with.

Adopted children such as ours are especially anxious to piece together the story of who they were and who was important before they were brought into our lives. These albums really do document their personal histories. They see their birth parents and also pictures we took of the continuing relationship with their father's parents and their half -brother, since we met with them twice a year. There are pictures of their friends as they grew up. There are holidays and family parties. There are milestones in their lives at school, at church, in Scouts, and in achieving new skills and completing personal projects. Especially important were the trips we took. Although we took many trips, the one two counties south to Disneyland in Anaheim, was one of the first. I think this occurred when they were still foster children, but when I remember who came with us, we hadn't met them until the September before the adoption took place in December.

Photos Document Where We've Been

Taken on a trip to Washington,D.C. and Gettysburg in 1985.
Taken on a trip to Washington,D.C. and Gettysburg in 1985. | Source

Proof of Connections to People and Places

When children are young, they don't remember the details of the people they meet and the places they go with their families. They may enjoy the trips and outings, but have no idea really where they were. They may remember that they went to see their grandparents in Oklahoma. I did, when I was six. I remember only a few things about that trip and I have no pictures from it. People didn't take cameras everywhere then. I remember being in a potato shed with my grandmother, and I remember getting sick in the car while we crossed a bridge when we had almost reached our destination. I also remember visiting a farm in Texas on that same trip and seeing some cows up close. That's almost the only trip we took as a family when I was growing up.

I made up my mind when I grew up that I would take pictures on trips and label them so that I would always remember these parts of my life. I wanted to do the same for my children. Most of our trips were designed to contribute to our children's education and knowledge of history and geography, so it was especially important to do this.

The first major trip we took with the children after the adoption was final was to the Washington, D.C. area. The pictures above are from that trip. The purpose was to introduce our children to another family, so we shared many of the outings with them. Among the places we saw were Gettysburg, the usual monuments, the Capitol, where we took a tour, Mount Vernon, and a living history colonial farm in Virginia. The children were seven and eleven.


Across the Country by Car

Jason and Sarah in cliff Dwelling at Mesa Verde National Park, 1987
Jason and Sarah in cliff Dwelling at Mesa Verde National Park, 1987 | Source
Jason with soldier at Valley Forge on the way to Massachusetts.
Jason with soldier at Valley Forge on the way to Massachusetts. | Source
Sarah and Jason on Bridge between Lexington and Concord at Minute Man National Park
Sarah and Jason on Bridge between Lexington and Concord at Minute Man National Park | Source
Sarah and Jason exploring Scott's Bluff as we traveled home along the Oregon Trail Route
Sarah and Jason exploring Scott's Bluff as we traveled home along the Oregon Trail Route | Source
Sarah looking lovely on the nature trail in South Pass City, Wyoming
Sarah looking lovely on the nature trail in South Pass City, Wyoming | Source

Seeing More of the USA

One summer we traveled to Colorado to see Mesa Verde National Park and also to ride the Railroad from Durango to Silverton. We also toured a mine in Ouray, and visited the Grand Canyon and the Painted Desert and the large Meteor Crater in Arizona. We took lots of pictures of the children in the places we went, as most families do when they travel with children.

We took more pictures when we lived in the state of Washington for four months. We took by far the most pictures when we crossed the country to Massachusetts by car the next year and spent two weeks seeing all the living history and historical towns and buildings we could. From Boston to Salem to Plymouth, we went everywhere we could learn something. On that trip, Sarah kept a daily journal of our daily travels, states we passed through, rivers we crossed, what crops we saw growing in the countryside, etc. It was all part of our home school curriculum. Jason got to hold the trip-tik from the Auto Club and act as navigator.

When we got home, we developed the pictures and each child got a set of the best to organize in his own album by state. They also had to fill in an outline map of our route and label everything I considered important to remember. We had taken one route to get to Massachusetts, but we took I-80 home so that we could also see all the places we had read about on the Oregon trail. (I also took pictures of landforms we saw to be used in testing later, after we'd studied them.)

Those trips were a big part of my children's lives. I did not want them to be blurred into a mental collage later on. I wanted them to be savored and reflected upon later and for my children to be able to build more meaning into them as they learned more later about each place.

Each of us attaches our own special meaning to the places we have lived and traveled to. All of those places have become part of who we are. So it's important to be able to revisit them through our pictures when we want to document or validate something we are remembering in connection with a place. As we look at the pictures, even the smells and sounds may come back to our minds as they recreate our experience for us.

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch

The year before we went to Massachusetts, Jason had studied Carry On, Mr. Bowditch at a Principle Approach school. These pages show the end-of year party based on that them.  It all made Jason really want to see Salem.
The year before we went to Massachusetts, Jason had studied Carry On, Mr. Bowditch at a Principle Approach school. These pages show the end-of year party based on that them. It all made Jason really want to see Salem. | Source

Carry on Mr. Bowditch

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch
Carry On, Mr. Bowditch

My son loved this book about the Father of Navigation, Nathaniel Bowditch, a brilliant mathematician who grew up in Salem, Massachusetts in the 1700's. The study of this book with his class, and the ending party on the last day of school made my son very eager to make sure we put Salem on our itinerary when we visited Massachusetts. At that party, the children were all in colonial dress, ate authentic colonial food on pewter dishes at long tables, and engaged in numerous other hands-on activities. He was in the fifth grade.

 
Carry On Mr. Bowditch Teacher Guide
Carry On Mr. Bowditch Teacher Guide

This is part of the curriculum that the school Jason attended taught. It teaches a providential view of American history, and uses literature to help teach character and Biblical principles.

 
Carry On, Mr. Bowditch Study Guide
Carry On, Mr. Bowditch Study Guide

This study guide is also written from a Christian perspective.

 

The Custom House In Salem

It's a museum now, and was a high point in the trip for Jason. Sarah, sitting on the steps, was not as fascinated with all the "male" stuff inside the Custom House.
It's a museum now, and was a high point in the trip for Jason. Sarah, sitting on the steps, was not as fascinated with all the "male" stuff inside the Custom House. | Source

Photos Provide Proof of Accomplishments

Jason with big bubble from bubble gum.
Jason with big bubble from bubble gum. | Source

Proof Positive in Photographs

Have you ever overheard a discussion like this between children?

Child one: You should see the bubble I blew. It was so big it went from my chin almost to my eyes.

Child Two: You didn't do that. It wasn't really that big.

Child One: Yes I did. I've got the picture to prove it.

Pictures can prove an accomplishment. Of course back when this picture was taken, the average person couldn't doctor pictures, and they couldn't be disputed as easily. But most people aren't trying to prove things to other people. They want to remember their own accomplishments. Do you remember blowing your first big bubble? It's a small thing, like learning to whistle, but it seems very big at the time. Pictures (and now videos) can bring those magic moments back to us and allow us to relive them emotionally.

When even a young person begins to wonder who he is and what's important to him, pictures can help. He can ask himself if he played soccer because he liked it or because he wanted to be like everyone else. Did he enjoy scouting? What did he enjoy about it? How did it contribute to who he is at the moment? These questions might not be asked consciously, but the answers can come in the emotional responses to those pictures.

More Documentation of Life Events

Yes, Jason had a monarch butterfly in his hand. He was a scout. And it really did snow one February day in Newbury Park in Southern California where we lived in 1988
Yes, Jason had a monarch butterfly in his hand. He was a scout. And it really did snow one February day in Newbury Park in Southern California where we lived in 1988 | Source

Documentation of Relationships

Probably there is no more important part of who we are than our relationships with those we live with, play with, learn with, and love. Whether we are loved back also influences how we look at ourselves. We feel more significant if we know someone loves us. Children are more secure when they feel loved. For this reason, there are probably lots of pictures in your albums of people you love and special times you spend with them. You probably also have pictures of your pets, current and departed. All have an important place in your life. Just after I started this hub, I came across another one, I Was a Sweet Child of the Fifties, and it is another example of how photographs help document who we are in terms of the people who formed us.

Videos of some of these special gatherings are very important. I wish I had some. I've only been able to start taking them in the past two years. I would give a lot to have videos of Jason playing with his little cars and his big trucks when he was small, and when he and his sister ganged up on my husband in their play. They were quite imaginative in their play, as you will see if you follow that link. These are the kind of scenes I would like to have in video.

Those We Love and Who Love Us

Adoption day family picture with judge and social worker coming between us and our children for the last time -- or so we thought that day.
Adoption day family picture with judge and social worker coming between us and our children for the last time -- or so we thought that day. | Source
Jason was delighted that his half-brother and his family came to witness his baptism. They'd been delayed in traffic, but their being there was so important to Jason, the minister changed the order of service so they had time to arrive.
Jason was delighted that his half-brother and his family came to witness his baptism. They'd been delayed in traffic, but their being there was so important to Jason, the minister changed the order of service so they had time to arrive. | Source
My mom with my son and my brother's older son.
My mom with my son and my brother's older son. | Source
Candid shot of my elder nephew, our close friend Rich, and me as we celebrated Christmas together after our traditional Christmas celebration at my Mom's.
Candid shot of my elder nephew, our close friend Rich, and me as we celebrated Christmas together after our traditional Christmas celebration at my Mom's. | Source

Start That Album Now

Pioneer 200 Pocket Fabric Frame Cover Photo Album, Majestic Teal
Pioneer 200 Pocket Fabric Frame Cover Photo Album, Majestic Teal

I like the cover on this one, but it only works for 4x6" pictures. It's made of archival materials to preserve your pictures.

 
European Leather Photo Album with Archival, Acid Free Paper Holds 200 5x7" Photos, Black
European Leather Photo Album with Archival, Acid Free Paper Holds 200 5x7" Photos, Black

This album is more versatile if your pictures aren't all 4x6" It's binding makes it very attractive in your bookcase or shelf. It's also made of acid-free materials to protect your photos over time, and has spaces for labeling your pictures. Labeling is very important.

 

At the End of Life

A friend on another site reminded me tonight of another reason it's important to preserve pictures in organized albums, preferable physical ones that don't need a computer. Although digital frames are nice, when we grow old, we sometimes want to linger over the pages that are related. This friend explained that when her husband's short term memory started to slip, being able to look back at the past -- the places, events, and people he did remember, was a real blessing to him.

When my own mom got the prognosis that she only had six weeks to live, she, too, poured over the old family pictures, reliving her life through them, as they brought back the images of all the people and pets she had loved who had preceded her in death. She also lived again the joy she felt when I and my brother were born and as we grew up. Perhaps there's someone you need to start making an album for that will help them toward the end of his or her life. That person could even be you in a few decades.

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Comments 35 comments

Maria Cecilia profile image

Maria Cecilia 3 years ago from Philippines

nice one I think you were able to capture everything like a real photograph....photographs are to preserve memories. Do you know that wherever I go I always bring my digital camera? getting involved in hubpages gave me more reasons to bring my camera with me where ever I go, whenever I dine-in at a restaurant that I have never been, to place or country I visited for the first time, I also take photos of my pets in case I need picture for my article in a magazine...


iguidenetwork profile image

iguidenetwork 3 years ago from Austin, TX

Those are the original "Instagram filters"! Hehehe.

I agree with your article. We take photos as proof that we were there at a particular place and event, and for posterity. The great thing about digital photography is that when you erred on taking pictures, all you have to do is just to delete the file.

But it's really lovely to take a look at your old photos, something to actually hold as you see them, reminiscing the memories and something to share with your younger relatives and friends.

Voted up and interesting, beautiful.


WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 3 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

Maria, when I started writing online, I also started taking my camera everywhere just in case I might run into the opportunity leading to a hub. I didn't include that reason here because this article is aimed at people who aren't thinking of commercial uses. I'm always taking pictures that might be useful in some article someday or that would look good on a Zazzle product. Thanks for adding this to the discussion.


WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 3 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

I'm not into Instagram yet, since I don't take pictures on my phone yet. I'm all in favor of digital photography, but even photos on paper that fade over time seem more permanent than digital ones which can so easily be accidentally or deliberately deleted. It's good that digital photos can be printed out for off-line albums as special gifts for family members. Thanks for your comment.


akirchner profile image

akirchner 3 years ago from Central Oregon

It is remarkable to actually "see" photo albums anymore isn't it? We have loads too although a few years ago, I took all the pictures out as the paper was not archive quality, and put them in special boxes to preserve them. In this digital age though, I think we all forget all those days and trips we made memorable by taking a snapshot--and then you had to bring them back and actually WAIT to see if they came out...after spending money on film and developing. Amazing how far we've come--but I often wonder what will happen if I don't have a physical record of my shots and only a computer version. Even that makes me nervous so I back them up several spots--just in case lest I lose them forever. Wonderful points and as always, well written. Take care and happiest of holidays~


WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 3 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

Thanks for adding your insights into this conversation. There's just something about digital photographs that doesn't invite lingering over them except, maybe, to edit them. It seems when we are on the computer, we unload our cameras into files or albums, but I wonder how often people really go back and look at the albums because there's always something else to do when we're on the computer.


Bumpsysmum profile image

Bumpsysmum 3 years ago from Cambridgeshire

I am very much a 'happy snapper'. I try to take meaningful photos, sometimes I succeed, but I use my camera to capture life as it is for us rather than to try to be a wonderful photographer, just as you say here. The age of digital photography is a real boon for the likes of me, I do at least have half a chance of getting at least one decent pic. When we were buying film for the old cameras we had to be so careful what we snapped as it all cost so much, and when the film was used up that was it, no more pics.

Great Hub.


akirchner profile image

akirchner 3 years ago from Central Oregon

I hear what you're saying and that is really true--unless you start doing it as a biz as we did last year--then we end up printing a lot of what we shoot which is totally cool. I have a lot of folks who order our cards now and that's awesome seeing our photos all the time. I actually love making the cards just so I can re-see everything from my dog photos to my scenic memories. I do have albums and albums though on my computer~ That would be inevitable since it seems I shoot about 800 every time I go to photo shoot anything!


Fossillady profile image

Fossillady 3 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan

Don't ya just love the old Christmas photos? Whien I think of all the old family photos, they top the charts! I'm so glad I have my photo albums of my childhood and of my kids growing up! Whenever I want to revisit, they're right there at my disposal and not lost inside a memory card! Cheers, Kathi :O)


WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 3 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

Bumpsysmum, you're right-on about how careful we had to be with film. Then you'd have to develop a roll to know what was really worth getting printed. Now we can be instantly gratified by seeing the pictures as soon as they are shot. I like candid photos, as you can probably tell if you followed the link to my imaginative play hub. The candid shots document more of who we really are than the posed ones.


WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 3 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

I love making cards, too, but since I don't want to actually print them, I just sell them through my Zazzle stores. I do admit I take pictures I might not take usually if I were not thinking of Zazzle possibilities or pictures I might be able to use in my writing someday. When I want the cards to send myself, I wait for a Zazzle sale and get them then. I've been happy with the quality.


WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 3 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

Fossillady, it's interesting, too, how each person in one of those shots will be remembering a different aspect of that day or what's in the picture. A child might see the Christmas tree and think of how magical it was for him. The dad might see the same picture and remember how difficult it was to get the lights to work on the tree that year. Mom might remember how stressed out Dad was and also remember the look of delight when the child got the first glimpse of that tree.


K J Page profile image

K J Page 3 years ago from Pacific Northwest

You know, I've often wonder why I take photos. I take a lot less these days. But those I take are to remind myself later of really having been to some place neat where few get to or may not believe I made it. Some are to serve as painting models. Old photos from days gone by I have put notes on because I saw so many my parents had that they either didn't know because they were their parents or they had forgotten....


WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 3 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

K J, it's good you're adding those notes. Many years down the road you'll be very glad you did. I just wish my dad and my inlaws had labeled theirs. Thanks for adding to the conversation.


Maria Cecilia profile image

Maria Cecilia 3 years ago from Philippines

sorry If I sound so commercialize anyway, I did have my share of truckload of old photographs, friends used to just laughed at me about it. I have been compiling our pictures since I was 12 years old (we are of the same age bracket) and now that we are adults they turn to my collections and made fun of how we looked then. I handed it over to one friend so she will improve the packaging, imagine that she brought the photos from Philippines to Singapore...


WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 3 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

I look back at some of my high school photos from the 1950s and the fashions back then do look kind of funny now. Pictures are a way of preserving cultural, as well as personal history. Thanks for reading and commenting.


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 3 years ago from malang-indonesia

Beautiful hub. Remember this quote...said with pictures. It's mean, picture can say anything. We probably want to remember everything in the past and pictures are suitable tools. Thanks for writing and share with us. Voted up and Happy New Year,

Best wishes, Prasetio


WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 3 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

Happy New Year to you, too, Prasetio. Take lots of pictures to preserve its memories.


fotografo profile image

fotografo 3 years ago from Italy - Rome

this is awesome article thanks


WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 3 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

fotografo, Thanks for your kind words.


WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 3 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

That sounds like a lot of pictures, and I've done the same things. Still, I don't always have just the right one I need to illustrate a piece of writing.


KoraleeP profile image

KoraleeP 3 years ago from Vernon British Columbia Canada

So true....I agree with what your saying about having physical photographs, but I really like going through my friends pictures on Facebook, especially if you haven't seen them for a long time, because you can see how they've changed over the years.

I definitely can do without seeing 1000+ photos that people take of themselves standing in front of the mirror with their cell phones. Do you have a theory on why they do that?


WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 3 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

Koralee, I guess they think their friends should want to see them. I also like keeping up with friends on Facebook, but my friends don't post all that many photos of themselves.


Sherry Hewins profile image

Sherry Hewins 3 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

I have inherited many photos from my husband's side of the family that are over 100 years old. Most of them don't have anything written on them, and I don't know, or can only guess who the people are. Still, I would never throw them away. Please people, at the very least, label your photos.


WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 2 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

Labeling photos is one of the most important gifts one can give one's heirs.


ravenrage07 profile image

ravenrage07 2 years ago from Richmond, VA

I've never been a fan of taking pictures of myself. I do wish I had more photos of the places I've traveled to but I'm always alone and had 8 hours to drive one way back starting at 5PM. Thanks for the insightful hub. Voted up and following!


101Ways2Life profile image

101Ways2Life 2 years ago from Clean and Green New Zealand

Great hub. I usually take pictures to capture the moment, and preserve it for posterity. I also take photos as an artistic expression.


WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 2 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

That's a shame. I just try to plan my rest stops where there are some good photo ops -- even if it's just a sunset.


WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 2 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

I also do that, but I'm also always thinking about some future writing that might need an illustration of a common object.


Brooke Lorren profile image

Brooke Lorren 2 years ago from Mesa, Arizona

Not only do I take pictures for the above reasons, but I've also started to take pictures of ordinary places. The places that we see every day that seem so commonplace to us change slowly over time. I've started to take pictures of places just to document what it was like, because some day it may look totally different.


WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 2 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

Brooke, I have been doing the same thing. I take photos of popular places of business in my local cities because I knew they may turn into historical photos as businesses close and new ones replace them. Great minds think alike.


DrBillSmithWriter profile image

DrBillSmithWriter 2 years ago from Hollister, MO

I was lucky my parents got me an excellent camera when I was in 8th grade. I've been the family photographer throughout the years. Many valuable memories preserved. Thanks for sharing this really neat hub! ;-)


WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 2 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

I owe a great debt to those who preserved my life in the photos they took when I was growing up. Those whose histories you have preserved owe you.


livetech profile image

livetech 4 months ago from United Kingdom

It's funny how it's gone from being lucky to find a few old photographs of yourself when you were small, to how social media will see many mothers post several photos of their children every single day! I just find it strange that one day they will be able to see such an in depth evolution of themselves from a baby to adult. Thanks for the hub, enjoyed reading it.


WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 4 months ago from Templeton, CA Author

I think digital photography has given us so many photos that many of them lose their relevance. With so many photos available, labeling them well is more important than ever.

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