Why do people keep photos?

A quick analysis of the four pieces I had found on the net to do with ‘Why do people keep photos'[Why-do-people-keep-photos-v1.1-13Jul2012] seems to indicate the following:

The main reasons that people keep photos is a) as a reminder of the past, and b) to share their experiences with others. There are many aspects to the first reason including:

  • To experience a moment again and the feelings you had at that moment.
  • To remind you of someone you really liked – or perhaps hated.
  • To escape from the present to the past because it is somehow more enjoyable than the present.
  • To augment a vague memory and see how it really was.

People also keep other artefacts such as theatre tickets and programmes, but a photo provides a richer memory experience. The saying ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ is appropriate for a variety of reasons including:

  • Photos tell us about the person photographed, and how they looked, what they did and liked or disliked, and maybe even how they were feeling or what they were thinking.
  • Photos tell us about history, trends and how things have changed or stayed the same.
  • Photos also tell us about the interests , preferences and lives of the people taking the photos.

Photos also have a special value over and above keepsakes or even paintings – they are ‘factive’. That is, we know that, provided things are working properly and have been done right, what’s in a photo actually existed or occurred. Of course, most people are aware that photos can give a false impression or can be doctored, but under normal circumstances photos show things the way they were.

Keeping photos is not normally classified as Hoarding – though a couple of the characteristics of hoarders might apply – no confidence in one’s memory and a fear of forgetting important memories. So, it is likely that someone with hoarding tendencies would probably want to keep photos – but just because someone keeps photos doesn’t make them a hoarder.

Interestingly, I found little mention of specific family reasons for keeping photos – either to see what one’s ancestors were like or to pass photos down to future generations. There was mention that photos tell us about our history and can serve as a linkage of one generation to another but no discussion of why those things are important. My guess is that it is just a natural human trait to be interested in where you came from and what your ancestors were like; and that any desire to hand photos down to the next generation simply reflects the value that individuals place on having such information about their ancestors themselves.

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