Our relationship with our photos had become unhealthy

IT has been a surprising hit in the house: the screensaver, writes Colm O'Regan

Our relationship with our photos had become unhealthy

To explain, the Big Computer has been moved from the nursery/storeroom/office/unfinished-or-unstarted-projects-room/spare bedroom down to the sittingroom/diningroom/playroom/kitchen/always-needs-to-be-tidied-room and is now the telly. Instead of being hunched over a phone, I watched the World Cup in 24-inch glory, like a normal person.

Having said that, it was the RTÉ Player, so there was the odd anomaly every few minutes or so. But, by and large, it’s the telly I never had for a while. It is a provocative gesture, practically daring the Government to bring in a broadcasting tax to replace the TV licence.

But, also, it has a screensaver. And on that screensaver are photos, and those photos are now getting looked at more often than any photo taken since about 2002.

The photos on the screensaver are recent, but still they help refresh the memory. I like it. Our relationship with our photographs had become unhealthy. We take thousands, so that we don’t forget the precious moment, store them somewhere, and then forget where we’ve stored them, but are aware they are there somewhere. The worst of both worlds. They are on laptops, But which one. And where? They are on hard-drives, which are now stored in a box with ESB bills from ten years ago and the yoke off the thing that we couldn’t get to work.

So, the screensaver is just a small step. On my bucket list, far ahead of bungee jumping, is the ultimate goal. Sorting all the photos; I mean all. The digital, the agfa, the old Downton Abbey ones from previous generations. Scanned, sorted by date. Can you imagine? Having all that done? I would die happy.

And, especially, I’m looking forward to finding the less enigmatic ones. Ones from when I was a teenager and, unlike today’s teenager, I regarded a camera as if it would steal my soul. That was before duckface and gym pose, before victory sign and jumping in the air, before clothes that fitted and haircuts that were on purpose. There were the teenage photos from the past. The ones with the eccentric hand-me-downs. A trenchcoat and combat trousers, a TERRIBLE earring.

But I want to see the photos to piece together the memories, to release hours of footage from the vaults. Marcel Proust wrote the 3,200-page novel, Remembrance of Times Past, after the taste of a madeleine tea-cake triggered a flood of memories of his childhood. Imagine how long the book would have been if he’d had his picture taken with the cake, while scowling and slouching in a family group and wearing his brother’s jumper.

If you travel farther back in looking at family photos, you can often see the same jumper travel down through the siblings

Old photographs are also fascinating for what the camera does not aim at: the incidental details, like landscape in the background and objects that peep into the corner. Houses that have changed after children arrived or grew up and left; hedges that were planted and spiralled out of control.

And the philosophy of photos has changed over time, as well. Maybe as we have become more confident in ourselves, we have allowed the camera to come closer. A holiday photo now is a selfie taken up 80% by your head, Taj Mahal in the background, your visibly hairy nose in the foreground.

Photos long ago were different. A father stood 80 yards away to get the whole of the castle in. A mother shielded her face from the camera’s eye with one hand and restrained a child with the other. For some reason, the rear bumper of the car was in the photo, as well, because you could park anywhere then.

So, the Big Computer is running a small exhibition at the moment, but the screen has a lot more saving to do.

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