Today, we make more photographs than ever before. The digital era is responsible for that, and it’s very easy to build a sizable catalog of photographs in a very short space of time. The consequence is that the mental lifespan of most photographs is very short; their impact diluted, their significance reduced. Photographs are now put on a creative rotator belt, churned out in mass. They exist on hard drives, cloud storage, and social platforms. Because of the number of images we produce, many of them, although saved, are forgotten. That’s why we’re going to explore the importance of reflecting on our work and remembering the past.
Before we get into the reasons why it’s important to go through our photography archives proactively, I want to make a quick disclosure. I’ve often been guilty of forgetting work from yesteryear. And it was only recently that I had the realization of how crucial it is to spend time with images I’ve taken in the past. I’m not writing this to preach, but rather, to share, so we all benefit.
Photography Archives Give a Perspective of Development
At the beginning of our path in photography, we learn so much so fast that the whole process of development is intense. But then, as the years and decades go by, it feels as though the process of improvement slows down. We become comfortable, almost feeling stagnated in our abilities. However, I encourage you to look at a set of your images from only a couple of years ago. There’s a good chance you will see improvements in the way that you create images. It should give you a little confidence boost that you’re still developing. However, if you feel there has been zero improvement, challenge yourself. Use the reflection to set some photography goals.
In any industry, any hobby, our passion for something can flatline. I remember when I started, I would happily spend hours, sometimes days, alone shooting street photography, drinking coffee, editing photos, exploring new lands. I loved it to the point it absorbed me. I still love it today, but that love has become unconditional, rather than the uncontrollable fire during my early infatuation with the craft. So, when I look at photographs I made during that time, it reminds me just how much I love to shoot. I connected to the raw enthusiasm I had as a kid, and I took it with me to the present day. It provided a powerful reminder of how important photography is to me. I’m confident it will have the same impact on you.
There’s a common idea that we’re always evolving, always improving, and always moving forward. But, on the flip side to that is the idea of us going in a completely different direction. There’s a chance that you look at previous images and think, “why am I not creating images that good anymore?” The reason is personal to you. You could feel bored, unchallenged, or just not that into the craft anymore. But whatever it is, going into your photo archives and seeing yourself going backward should be a cold wake up call. It should help put some oil back in your photographic tank and get you moving forward again.
Reconnecting to Feelings
For many of us, our photographs hold a lot of emotional value. Even looking at an image from a certain time can reconnect us to where we were mentally during that period. A photograph can remind us of pain, pleasure, depression, happiness, and a whole list of other emotions. I think it’s healthy to check in with past feelings. Sometimes it can encourage us to process something we may have subconsciously pushed to the bottom of our heart and mind. I’ll always be of the opinion that photography and past photographs are a fantastic tool for healing.
Get Your Photography House in Order
Creatives like photographers, can be, well, a little all over the place. While some have a perfect, color-coordinated, alphabetically ordered, dated collection of their work, many of us save here, there, and everywhere. It’s good for mental well-being and the safety of our images to take a couple of hours aside every few months and ensure our photographs can be easily found and kept safe. If you’re pitching to a publication, or need to send a client an image from a past shoot, then you want to be able to go into your photography archives and access the work easily and quickly.
How Often Should You Go Back?
I’m not suggesting to go back through your photographs every week; that would halt the impact of all the above points. But, I think every three to six months should be a realistic aim to take some time to reflect. Above everything, it’s fun to spend time with the work you created. It allows you to be proud of yourself as a photographer, and to develop exciting new ways to move forward. It certainly worked for me.