Ghost in the Machine

Found image in a Vivitar digital camera

It goes without saying that the ways in which family photos get made, collected and disseminated has changed a great deal in the last couple of decades. Simply from talking to the younger members of my close extended family, I know that the physical family photo album is, for this generation, and presumably for future generations, a thing of the past. Digitisation has made an online setting far more likely; our familiar memories now exist as code made visible only by electricity, and in most cases a third party.

Consumer digital cameras started to appear in the mid-1990s, and by the beginning of the next century a little compact digital was the camera de jour. Recently, I bought a Vivitar digital camera to sell at TheFamilyMuseumStore in London’s Spitalfields Market. I had to make sure it was in good order and functioning before selling it; there is a desire among those of college age for analogue cameras generally, but early noughties digital cameras are also having their Indian summer at the moment.

On the Vivitar, there were a few images left in the tiny internal memory, date-stamped 2007.  Two were of garden furniture and the third was of a four- or five-year-old girl standing next to the kitchen sink, looking up into the camera. She seemed vulnerable, set adrift like this, perhaps forgotten. Was this the only one? Had this image been copied to a hard drive? I pondered over deleting it. I would never once consider destroying a physical photo, and if I wanted to I would have to go to the effort of ripping it up, or more dramatically, setting fire to it. But with this image, all I had to do was click a button and it would be scrambled into non-existence.

I didn’t delete it. I’ve passed the buck. I’m going to sell it with the image still there.

Nigel Martin Shephard

Published by The Family Museum

We are an archival project about amateur family photography, based in London and set up by filmmaker Nigel Shephard and editor Rachael Moloney.

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