Why I Regret Deleting Personal Photographs (And Why You Will Too)

Aside from the gigs and the glory, there’s the personal element to a photographer’s body of work.

I’m of the opinion that all photographers have a stash of personal work in their portfolio. Whether they’re photos of loved ones, vacations, or something that holds importance to them, photos exist that have meaning and emotional value. Some put their most personal images out to the public, while others keep them safe and hidden away, only for personal consumption. As photographers, it’s in our blood to document; we live for it. And it’s the work that’s not for a client that best communicates our journey through life. But sometimes, there are moments in life we would like to forget. Photos we wish were never created. We run away; we delete. But is that a good idea?

Acting Out of Emotion

A blowup bed I would sleep on the floor of friends. Homeless, depressed, alone.

2018 was a weird one for me. It was a very emotionally charged year. To be frank, it was a year that was the breaking point of one of the darkest periods of my life. I was dealing with the aftereffect of three years in the most soul-destroying job I’ve ever done. On top of that, I came out of an 18-month whirlwind of a relationship. Which, by the end, had left my confidence shattered and self-esteem buried in the ground.

For the latter, I knew I had to remove any record I had of the person I was with. For the sake of my mental health and journey of rebuilding, they could no longest exist. That meant every photo, either of them or us, had to be deleted. So that’s what I did. Vacation snaps, personal portraits, selfies in front of the ocean, they were all gone. It was one way of telling my mind they never happened, and to send a message to myself that it was now time to start the healing process.

“…I could view those images and be 100% comfortable with whatever they made me feel. But I’m not content with the feelings generated due to them no longer being there.”

Over the next 12 months, that’s what I did, I healed. It wasn’t easy, and for some time, the darkness only got darker. Ironically, it was during this time where I feel I created some of my best work. It was the catalyst of the life that was ahead of me. Simply put, I needed that challenging time to happen. 18 months later and that darkness is nothing but bright light. The emotions, the pain, they’re all gone. Sadly, so are the photos I deleted too.

Learn From My Mistakes

A chair I would sit in while having online therapy

I don’t regret that relationship. I’m very grateful for it and the times shared with that person. I do regret deleting all the photos, however. Not because I miss that person or want to see them. But because the images and that time are a part of me, they’re a chapter in my story.

“Because I promise you, there will be a time when the pain doesn’t hurt as much. It will be manageable, or won’t be there at all.”

Reflecting on our photos can impact us in different ways. They can make us smile, cry, or feel indifferent. In the peak of our emotions, it can be very difficult to handle the feelings that are generated from photos. That’s why I deleted them. But now, in a time where I’ve never been happier, I could view those images and be 100% comfortable with whatever they made me feel. But I’m not content with the feelings generated due to them no longer being there. Because of that, this is my message to you not to make the same mistake as me.

Let The Photographer Take Over

The park I would visit to clear my mind and be peaceful

It doesn’t have to be an ex. It could be a family member, friends, a vacation that went wrong. Whatever it is, do not delete your photos. It may seem like the catalyst for recovery, but in reality, it’s time that’s your best healer. Instead, hide your photos. Put them on a pen drive and give it to a friend for safekeeping. Because I promise you, there will be a time when the pain doesn’t hurt as much. It will be manageable, or won’t be there at all. When that day comes, weeks, months, or years later, the photographer in you will want to reflect. You will want to remember your creations and the personal stories attached to them.

As for me, I’ll have to become content with the regret that they’re gone forever. I’ll learn from my mistakes and ensure in the future, the photographer in me takes action rather than the emotional human.