I have 66,805 pictures on my iPhone. There, I said it. I have no shame. Everyone who knows me knows that pictures are my life. And to think I was initially completely resistant to digital.

Of course, that number doesn’t include videos, the countless memory cards I have stashed in a drawer, the tens of thousands of photos on my old laptop… not to mention the bins and boxes and drawers filled with actual old-school photographs.

When planning my wedding back in 2004, the most important thing on my list was hiring a photographer that would shoot through a photojournalistic eye, with each picture capturing a moment in time, telling a story with no words. It wasn’t long before I found my guy, and signed on the line with the stipulation that I got a full set of printed proofs, not a disk of low-res jpegs. I didn’t want to sit and stare at pictures on a screen; I wanted to hold the prints in my hands like I’d done for decades before. Nearly 20 years later, joke’s on me, right? Me and my 66,000-plus iPhone images … because while I relish the quiet moments when I travel back in time sorting through old prints, I spend far more time with my digital images.

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I was recently scrolling through said thousands of pictures on my phone, looking for fun shots to post celebrating my niece’s birthday, when it hit me: I’ve had a beautiful life. Photos of everything from birthdays and vacations to breathtaking sunsets and nature, to silly faces and even tears, have frozen in time the happy milestones and experiences — and the heartbreaking and unhappy — moments throughout my lifetime.

The thing is, there is nothing like pulling out a box of old photos and getting caught in a time warp for a few fleeting moments. It’s a trip for the senses. From lifting off the cover to the feel of the old photo paper to the smell of the photos, the mere act of physically interacting with these photos triggers a whole slew of memories and emotions. You’ll never get all of that staring at a little handheld screen. Of course, scrolling through old photos on your device can trigger emotions, but there’s just something magical that happens when your fingertips slide over that glossy or matte finish.

Memories of my wedding day are very much a blur. There was so much happening, so many moving parts, that it’s hard to look back and remember a lot. When I pull out my collection of proofs, however, moments in time captured by a lens offer me a glimpse of the smaller details forgotten over the years. When I sit there holding those photos, smiling down at our younger selves, I am free of not only the craziness of that day nearly 20 years ago. I am free of the noise that comes in the digital form: pop-up ads, suggested edits, text messages.

It’s just me and the quiet of my thoughts, the only “noise” perhaps laughter thinking about dancing to “Hot Stuff” with my father-in-law and how my friend cut off the band because they started to play another Donner Summer classic, “Last Dance,” as the last song of the night — the one cliché song that I had told them not to play as the last song. Though it may be a moment from nearly two decades ago, I am in that moment, completely uninterrupted from outside noise — unless it’s my dogs harassing me to go out, of course.

I have very much the same view when it comes to newsprint. I was a journalist in my North Jersey hometown on Sept. 11, 2001. I didn’t personally lose anyone, but I know so many who did, and I got to know many more who lost loved ones as I covered memorial services and shared stories of those lost, creating a historical record through my reporting. Every year on the anniversary, I take out my old issues of Pascack Press with 9/11 coverage and am instantly transported back in time; feelings and emotions of the time wash over me.

The magnitude of the loss that day, it seems, diminishes the farther away you are from the East Coast because most of the victims were from Atlantic cities and towns. Here in California, it’s mostly just another day; the only remembrance ceremonies are the ones broadcast from the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. This ceremony of mine on Sept. 11 of each year is my own memorial of sorts, a time to reflect and remember those lives lost and affected. It’s cathartic.

Having those seven years’ worth of newspapers — a few hundred of them from my time with Pascack Press — not only serves as a reminder of what was going on in the world at the time, it also takes me back to reflect on where I was in my own life. It’s part of my story, too. Every now and then, I’ll pull out a random old paper, the newsprint starting to faintly yellow, and dive head-first down a rabbit hole of time — sans pop-up videos that I just can’t seem to find the X on. 

Yet here I sit, typing away looking at a screen, composing a piece that many will read on a screen.

So, while we’re undoubtedly living in a digital world, clearly, there can be a happy medium. We’ve got all the conveniences of having everything right at our fingertips but keeping a way to physically connect with our memories is so very important. Whether it’s popping open an old mix tape, pulling out an old Moonshine Ink, sliding a dusty book off a shelf, or shuffling through a box of old photos, it’s so healthy to hold on to the past — literally.

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  • Juliana Demarest

    Juliana Demarest is a Jersey girl with ink in her blood. She fell in love with print journalism at a young age in the '80s when her Uncle Tony would take her to "work" at his weekly paper. In 1997, she co-founded a weekly newspaper in North Jersey. One day, she went to photograph a local farmer for a news story. She ended up marrying him and leaving journalism to become a farmer's wife. In 2010, they packed up their two children and headed to Truckee in pursuit of the outdoor life. She didn't realize just how much she missed journalism until she joined Moonshine in 2018 after taking time off to be mom. Connect with Juliana juliana@moonshineink.com

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