If you're serious about family history, you need to put the day-to-day cares of life aside at least for a while and focus on what you have, how you will acquire more, and how you will care for your collection.
If family history is a bit less of a priority, and everything else just seems so much more interesting and important, I can promise you that the day will come, perhaps not too far distant, when photographs will be among your most treasured possessions.
Our lives can change radically and quickly. We usually have a view of our own situation and surroundings that is limited and fairly comfortable. What we don't expect is how external events will force us to change that view--many times when the tools and opportunities are no longer with us.
For some time I made part of my living as a photographer and I've been involved in production projects more heavily in recent years. When my wide passed away in 2007 I had a number of pictures, many excellent ones, but not nearly as many as I should have. I had some video of her I had preserved over the years, but no real interviews, family stories, or shared memories.
What a tragedy--I should have known better.
In a short time those pictures I had become among my most treasured possessions and I would have given a great deal to have more. Each of us faces a similar situation, whether respecting parents, siblings, or children. If we fail to develop our photographic record while we have the opportunity, we will surely lose that opportunity when we least expect to.
Have you ever heard of "Dead Fred?" One of this site's purposes is for users to post photographs that lack adequate identification or information in hope that someone can make a family connection and provide details. Your parents and grandparents--the same ones who gave you those pictures you've been ignoring--are the source for details, background, and family history recollections about those pictures that will be lost forever when they are wrong.
Recently a genealogy newsletter I occasionally read commented that our family history may be lost in two or three generations if we fail to preserve it. The writer is wrong: it takes only a single generation to lose almost all contact with even the comparatively recent past.
Here are five good reasons you should pay attention to your old photographs, and how you will go about acquiring new ones:
1. There is no better time.
We always assume, for some peculiar reason, that we will have more free time in the future. Even if the assumption were true, which is usually is not, we may not have the financial resources, the access to family members whose history we want to preserve, or the health to do what we want to do in the future. We need to start today with the time and resources we have available.
2. You already have old photographs.
Even if you didn't realize it. Every photographic print you have is deteriorating, some slowly and others surprisingly rapidly. One an image deteriorates, some of the changes can be compensated for, but the character and detail of the original is lost forever and can never be recovered.
3. Many old techniques were better and deserve to be preserved.
Photographic prints made prior to about 1985 are usually superior to those produced later, when low-cost processing techniques came into widespread use. The color and artistic techniques used on professional portraits, for instance, were frequently costly and represent a true lost art in this age of digital image manipulation. These treasures need to be preserved.
4. Images tell a story that words never can.
The personal insights, interactions, and memories preserved on film are at least as important as personal journals. Pictures allow us to see others as they saw themselves and appreciate their priorities, lifestyles, and relationships in unique ways.
5. Digital technology makes creating new pictures easy and cheap.
There is no financial excuse for not taking as many pictures as you can. Digital photography imposes no penalties for mistakes. A quality digital camera is a wonderful tool, but it can never substitute for a photographer who won't take pictures. Buy the best camera you can afford and stop waiting until you have good equipment to start taking as many pictures as you can.
One professional photographer I know, the recipient of many awards, purposely uses very modest equipment as proof that expensive and sophisticated set-ups are not essential to top-quality results. Put your effort into taking more and better pictures--but take pictures!