Curating A Collection of Old Photos to Keep


For me getting to a small, manageable and orderly collection of photographs is liberating and that’s my motivation for working carefully through this next stage. For others there will be angst “Should I keep this one or that?” But at no stage yet have I mentioned throwing away the rejected prints so there is still the safety net of returning to them later, should there be a need. And, for a couple of valid reasons, there may well be that need … as explained later.

This is part four of a system for sorting, digitising and decluttering boxes of old photographs. Part one. Part two. Part three

Working with the individual piles of KEEPERS

By now each pile contains photographs of only one event or person (except the groups). It has become very apparent by the quantities that some people are more photogenic than others!

I spread each pile in turn, out on a surface to analyse the images with the intention of keeping the best, if possible, and decluttering some more. Choosing is hard but ideally the overall collection needs to:

  • Show what individual relatives looked like
  • Indicate something of their personalities
  • Have group shots that show relationships between the individuals
  • Have a variety of ages/stages of each person
  • Record important events
  • Give insight into how life was ‘back in the day’
  • Have a balance of quantities i.e. not heaps of photos of one person but very few of others.

These are historical documents – other generations will inherit them – so keeping a note of all known names, dates and places is important.

Oh the fashions of the 70s!!


Inevitably, ‘gaps’ begin to appear in the collection – it becomes apparent that certain important people are missing from the KEEPERS piles. This necessitates a rummage through the OTHERS box and sometimes even the NOT NEEDED box in order to ensure these individuals are represented in the family archives. Consequently some faded or out of focus images creep into the collection.

Dilemma: The fate of those who hated having their photos taken



Sometimes there are no flattering images of Aunt Agnes or Janice because they hated having their photo taken and always ran away from the photographer. Alas their dislike of the camera compounds the problem because sometimes the only pictures of them are with facial grimaces or in awkward escape poses. But for completion of the collection, a look through the rejects is required to find the least embarrassing ones … so more blurred or inferior quality photos creep into the collection.

I’ve got my collection now what?

Getting to this stage is a real achievement – it has taken determination and persistence!  I’ve digitised my images and am currently working at putting them into books for the family. All this takes time – heaps of it.  I’ll share my experiences in some future posts.


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