It was just after breakfast, the weekend before last. I was packing my bag ready to go out and look at some ecclesiastical graffiti. I was happy and only half listening to the requests of the younger family members to look for their things, to find their hairbrush/game/socks, when it happened. *It* being the rapid and complete loss of every digital image from our computer. One minute they were all there, all the neat multimedia files, catalogued and ordered. The next minute every single pixel jumped up and whisked away into the ether... gone... just like that.
Voided, vanished, leaving behind one empty, blank, blinking screen. A nihilistic proof.
I shook my head, I gulped, I looked in recycle bins and other partitioned drives and then I yelled. I yelled for help, I yelled for the images of my babies, for the videos of their first steps, for the sepia photos of my grandparents, for the younger red headed version of myself getting married. I yelled for the archive of arts photos, for the costuming source material gleaned from various tombs all around the country, for the medieval graffiti files I had been working so diligently on.
While the larger part of myself was busy yelling, a smaller more controlled version of me was making admonishing noises - "Stop making a fuss" - the diminutive but sterner voice was saying. "No one is hurt - nothing is really happening". Once the immediate shock wore off, I proceeded to have an internal dialogue, with emotion on one side and logic on the other. While I Was having this struggle, in the background, being more useful, was some clever recovery software which was scouring the chaos on the hard disk and retrieving what it could find.
People often say that in a fire they would go to grab the photograph album. This is an example of losses looming larger than gains I suppose. People prefer to risk injury rather than lose those precious pieces of paper. Paper that will eventually fade anyway, albeit more slowly and with less alteration than our memories do. From a logical stand point it makes no sense. The event recorded is past and gone. What are the real consequences of losing those images? Was the invention of the camera so significant to our psyches that we would now risk bodily harm in order to preserve those pictures? Then there is the argument which focusses on the sheer volume of data stored. How many images do we actually require? We can't possibly need *all* of the pixels all of the time. But when it comes to human beings, we’re not that logical. We’re quite emotional.
My photos were an expression of myself, of my skill (or otherwise) as a producer of pictures. Actually they were more than that; they were an extension of myself, of my time and effort and sight. Sometimes I share those bits of me with other people, via the blog, or a survey group or one of the other social media platforms available. I know I'm not alone in this pursuit, in graffiti cataloguing particularly, there are people with vast archives of photographic material.
As soon as the recovery software had finished doing its job I returned to see what was back from the beyond. It was a relief to find that a good proportion of the family pictures had been recovered. Other returnees, for some unexplained reason, had become separated from their date stamps and some now only exist as tiny little thumbnails. I haven't seen any evidence of my wedding video yet. My grandparents photos can be replaced with copies held by other family members. Costume reference material will be supplemented by Pinterest and the graffiti photos are sitting in a huge pile.
The graffiti photos have really suffered. This is because of the way they were ordered (numerically) before being placed in individual church named files. I can only liken the effect to having your filing cabinet opened, all of the green dividers removed, the numbers scrubbed out and the pictures scattered around the room (minus two large handfuls of random pictures). I can make piles of some of the graffiti pictures by date, which is useful if I've only visited one church that day (I regularly visit two or three) but I can no longer tell you exactly where a piece of graffiti can be found inside a church, whereas I could do that before. What is worse is that I know what files are incomplete, because I have paper files that tell me what I can't find!
A week later and it is mothering Sunday. My children have clubbed together, left he chocolates and the flowers in the supermarket aisles and gone to buy me external hard drive. I am hugely grateful for this. Hopefully I won't lose any more photos ever again. Now I just need to decide whether to start back from the beginning again with the graffiti or carry on from here?
(Edit - this event triggered the creation of the Ecclesiastical Graffiti Index.)