Shot on iPhone, forgotten forever

25 Apr 2020 • 6 min read

To put it mildly, it’s been a weird time for everyone recently. I was due to fly home to London for a visit in April, but because my Mum is in a high risk category, I’d be in quarantine for as long as the trip was originally booked for, and we needed to cancel the trip. Even if we lived next door we wouldn’t be able to visit now, but not being allowed to see her in London, or my wife’s parents in New Zealand, it makes us all feel a little further than we are. Our saving grace in all this? Mia’s Moments, our family WhatsApp group.

I’ve taken more pictures in my daughter’s first year than I have in the 5 parent free years before that. Every first and every fall is faithfully captured, and sent with a caption to Mia’s Moments. Her first day. Her first bath. Her first giggle. A steadily growing timeline of her life, which during this time of isolation, has been our fallback for family connection. With this group no one is missing out, and no group is closer than the other. In the best possible way, we’re all just at an arm’s length.

In the chat we’ve talked about how lucky we are to capture and share moments like this so easily, and how different it was when we were kids. With film cameras, each picture had a mix of uncertainty and anticipation waiting for it to be developed. They had to be more selective about what moments were worth capturing, and having to pay to get them developed also created a sense of occasion. We used burst mode to capture Mia eating her first birthday cake. A disposable Kodak only had 27 chances to capture the entire day.

Something I’ve always loved about film though; it has the useful physical prompt to make you more likely to do something with it. To frame it somewhere, stick it on the fridge, or slip into a laminated photo album with a shorthand for the memory — “Dom, 4 months old, with Uncle Joe. Marsh Green”. Displayed in the hallway of your home, put on the mantelpiece, or on the dresser by your bed — you’re able to bring a memory into a place you want it to be remembered and relived, so it’s not forgotten.

Mia’s Moments is the closest ritual we have for flicking through a photo album, but it’s more to dip in and out of than a way to cement them as memories, or to externalise them from our phones and into the home. What we all love about it, though, is that we can just scroll through it to feel close to each other. A shared family highlight reel. I find myself going through these images of Mia regularly, exhausted on the couch in front of something shit on Netflix, and often think about how nice a private curated stream would be for other groups of people and moments in my life.

My photos are not in a place to make this easy — I’ve got nearly 20 thousand images on my phone, which makes it impossible to seperate something that is genuinely nostalgic from the sea of noise. My iCloud Library, with all it’s metadata and history of my travel, has no easy way to quickly curate and share something with people I’m thinking of. Lockdown or not, the thought of retroactively organising something I’ve been so mindless about feels too big to be worthwhile. Thousands of images spread over years in different cities, different jobs, and different social circles. Not exactly a tupperware drawer I konmari my way out of.

I think part of why we take so many pictures is there’s a tiny comfort in capturing a moment, even if it is an illusion of preserving it in memory. Colourful manhole covers in Japan, taken on a walk with friends in Hakuba. An ornate ferry token in New Zealand, during a trip for someone’s 30th. A picture of a pint from a trip home with a close mate in London — these are all moments I’d love to remember and relive, but have quickly faded from memory as soon as I’ve taken them and locked my phone.

Faded memories from Japan, Sydney and New Zealand

While some I could print and frame somewhere, there is a finite amount of space in my home to put them. What I’d find more valuable is being able to surface pictures of certain people and moments in my photos when I want to, or when would be meaningful to be reminded of them. The problem with this is my iPhone is completely unaware of the emotional context of my pictures and the people in them. Is that an ex, or an old school friend? A reunion, or a Monday? My first picture with someone, or my last?

I think there’s a small but meaningful change adding a “People” tab to the Photos app, and connecting it to other Apple services. My closest friends live in London and New York, and we’ve got an iMessage group that must be nearly 10 years old, and is still active almost daily. The People tab could easily group photos of us through that group (the same way it does on the newer share options). It could show me the photos and memories we have together, and be a way to surface those natively in iMessage, or a path to FaceTime them directly from a memory in Photos.

At an exhibition with close friends visiting a Cooper Hewitt exhibition in New York
At an exhibition with close friends visiting a Cooper Hewitt exhibition in New York

Having this kind of memory assistant to keep me connected to people I care about would also help me with the emotional labour staying connected can sometimes feel like, especially in times like this. Whilst I wait for technology to magically solve this for me, there are some blunter ways I might be able to fold this into individual practice. I could set a weekly reminder to go through images I’ve taken each week, to tag people and the missing context just outside of the frame. Create a location based shortcut to intentionally select highlights on my commute (whenever that’s a thing again). Share more moments in posts like these. Maybe private blog posts just for closest friends. This all might prove to be more work than it’s worth. For now at least, I have Mia’s Moments.