Is Saving Old Photographs Overrated? Redux

With the tornadoes and hurricanes blowing a bunch of houses to smithereens and fires reducing homes to ashes, I’m sure you have heard these sound bytes:

  • We’re just glad we got out alive.
  • We lost all our pictures.

Verbatim puts them on her “ten things to save during a fire list.”

2. a bag in which I’d stuff the half-dozen or so albums of baby photos of Steph and Pete and the envelopes of loose baby photos of Julie (yes, I know, I’ve got to albumize them all one of these days…)

Like most people we have a few hundred prints – 90% are albumized (but maybe not in any meaningful order.) Our photo albums take up 12 feet of bookshelves. Then there is another 6 feet of bookshelves that hold family videotapes. (Got to get them digitized some day.)

Here’s why photos may be overrated. When my parents died, we kept all their photographs. Mother did as good a job as any of labeling the relatives and people she and dad knew before I came along.

How many times a year do we look at these pictures? Zero.

How about our family photos? Us and our kids? Pretty close to zero.

(added when republished) How many pictures are “one of” Probably zero.

But it’s among the first thing people will mention if they have been through a disaster or are asked the question: what would you save?

If your house was blazing, you knew all the souls had safely escaped, and you had to carry out a large shopping bag of items to save, what would it be?

(Originally published 9/4/07)


  • My kids
  • Bible, purse, pair of shoes, diploma and Baby Phat phone
  • (kid) A Playstation and games, because he “waited four years to get it.”
  • (kid) A Saxophone, because “he is learning to play.”

So when it comes right down to crunch time, it looks like the tendency is to grab what you treasure. Sometimes that’s your Baby Phat phone, sometimes thats your Sax. Three of the thirteen photographed saved photos.

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Is Saving Old Photographs Overrated? Redux — 11 Comments

  1. You’re right, we almost never look at them, but we enjoy it when we do. My kids LOVE to see the few existing photos of us grownups when we were little, so maybe their kids will like to see their own parents as kids!

  2. The true danger today is hard drive crash erasing all of your digital prints instead of fire destroying the real thing. — The wife commanded that we upload backups to Flickr.

  3. @Karen: After thinking about it, I don’t know what else I would grab that would be more meaningful.
    @Chris: Yep, that is so true. My wife has a bad habit of leaving photos on the camera. Need to have a training session about Flickr I guess.

  4. In all honesty I think I would be so glad to be out of there without smoke inhalation that I wouldn’t care even about the camera. But it is good to put them online and on disks.
    Hey, a photo blog would be a good thing also to start uploading those pictures. Thanks for a thoughtful post.

  5. The old photos are great to look at, even our 18 year old Kid1 likes to see when she or we or her brother looked like when we were little. As for blogging, I have gone thru many old B&W photos and scanned them to post. I can’t look at them as often as I wish, but am happy to have them…

  6. @Rosie: right, have to save yourself first! A photo blog could get expensive because most blogs have limits on how much free storage you can use.

    @Ralph: I agree, don’t look at them often, but glad to have them. Usually at Christmas somebody will drag an album or two out and have some laughs.

  7. I must admit….. the house is a blazing and I’m grabbing the photos, and my phone, and my laptop, and my purse, and my well hope it’s a small fire. ….. Honestly this once happened to me and I didn’t think to grab anything, I was just thinking about getting out.. my photos were in a sorta fire safe box and made it with a some burns around the edges and smoke damage. I still have them seven years later stuffed in a bag at the back of the closet because they smell like smoke but can’t bring myself to let them go.

  8. The fire you describe sounds like lighting the gas log fireplace!
    Hard to believe that pictures would retain smoke smell. That must be awful.

  9. Photos are a real connection to the past. I have some of my great-great grandparents. I don’t look at them often but they do give a sense of history to the family as a whole. I wouldn’t want to loose them but would I think about them when trying to get of the house during a fire. I rather doubt it, I would think first about my computer (thankfully those pictures are backed up there) and my jewelry (I am after all a woman :-))

  10. Hi diosa. Interesting take, thanks for commenting. Do you have your photos offsite or on disc too? Like Chris said, your computer crashing could corrupt those.