Saved on my hard-drive are dated folders containing all the digital photos I’ve ever snapped: day folders nestled in month folders filed by their appropriate year. I’ve never counted how many photos I’ve taken then filed in this manner, but both the snapping and the stockpiling seem a bit obsessive, as if I’m hoarding canned goods in my larder against an imagined Apocalypse. “If disaster strikes,” some paranoid inner voice seems to intone, “at least I’ll have plenty of pictures!”
On the one hand, I snap pictures I think I might someday blog, my eye always looking for something new or noteworthy. On the other hand, there are certain things I can’t help but photograph even though I’ve already blogged and re-blogged them so many times, I no longer have anything new to say. What more can be said about the fresh, new leaves of spring, or how many more posts about flowers can I share?
At this point, I’ve recognized that having a teeming archive of random photos is largely useless. Even if I, at some future date, decide I want to revisit the photo I took of Object X some Y months ago, there’s the question of whether I’ll ever find it: did I take that picture in January or March or May, and was it this year or last? Even when I can find a “vintage” photo, my Inner Ethicist has qualms about frequently posting pictures from the past. In my mind, Hoarded Ordinaries is a chronicle of Life Right Now, so if I post too many pictures from last week, last month, or last year, the sense of immediacy is lost. To me at least, frequently posting archival pictures feels like cheating.
What I’m describing here is something of a personal conundrum. On the one hand, I insist on taking pictures without knowing exactly when or how I’ll use them, and I save these pictures rather than methodically tossing them. On the other hand, I’m hesitant to post archival images except in moments of blog-duress, when I’m desperate for something to share. If I were indeed hoarding canned goods, I’d be in the perilous predicament of saving up food I can’t by ethical precept actually eat, like a vegetarian stockpiling cans of beef stew. In such a scenario, how can you ever actually dig your way through your own accumulative impulses?
Today has been a literal rainy day. This morning I took Reggie on an abbreviated (but nevertheless soggy) walk; since then, I’ve spent the day doing laundry and grading online papers. If I were to create a dated photo folder titled 2008-06-04, that folder would necessarily be empty since I took no pictures today. What better excuse to revisit a handful of otherwise useless images I snapped before meeting friends for Sunday’s Art Walk in Beacon Hill? When else, exactly, will an occasion arise when I might need a photo of fruit and flowers outside Savenor’s, several shots of an equestrian statue of George Washington, and an extreme close-up of an allium?
Ultimately (and perhaps paradoxically), I think what enchants me most about the photos I take is exactly this sense of utter uselessness. The world doesn’t need another photo of George Washington strutting on horseback through the Public Garden; the world will be in no way improved by another snapshot of fruit and flowers. But when has utility or sense ever governed creative pursuits? “O reason not the need,” Shakespeare exhorted in King Lear. “Our basest beggars / Are in the poorest thing superfluous.” Even on rainy days, we’re collectively blessed with more than we’ll ever want or need. If the Universe continually insists on presenting us with spring leaves, ripe fruit, eye-catching flowers, statues, and souls, why shouldn’t we continue to notice and savor them, stockpiling for imagined Apocalypses we can’t yet begin to fathom?