It pays to keep your less-than-perfect images to avoid missing out on past memories, says Jon Bentley
As my long-suffering wife will attest I’m a bit of a hoarder. Old magazines, books and all manner of stuff from superannuated car parts to obsolete TVs are stashed away like fossils round the Bentley household on the off chance they’ll come in useful someday.
This mindset extends to my behaviour when deciding whether to delete less-than-perfect photos. Though many would advise a quick prune to keep only the best frames, I’m inclined to hang on to everything, no matter how blurred, incorrectly exposed, off-kilter or badly white-balanced the shots might be.
Just recently I’ve had my photo-hoarding policy justified. My old university college emailed asking whether I could remember my second-year room. Apparently the building had been newly restored and they were proposing a ‘new versus old’ feature for the college magazine contrasting what it was like back in 1981 with its new reincarnation.
I recalled a couple of shots of it I’d taken with my Nikon FE back in the day though I remembered I’d been a tad lazy and, rather than getting out my tripod, I’d gone handheld on Kodachrome 25. The inevitably glacial shutter speed had yielded rather blurry results and I feared I may have binned them.
A rummage through some yellow Kodak boxes at the back of a cupboard revealed my instinct to keep everything had, in fact, ensured their survival. And the smudginess was no obstacle to enjoying period details like the brown paint, exuberantly patterned carpet and a canister of Ilford HP5 just visible on the coffee table. Another shot reminded me of the view from my desk.
Even I haven’t kept all my pictures though. The other week I had cause to regret it. While revisiting the cathedral city of Wells in Somerset, which I knew as a teenager, I was pleased to see its Art Deco Regal Cinema still standing. I recalled taking some surreptitious shots of its delicately coloured 1930s auditorium, wall decorations and bulbous tearoom sofas, again on Kodachrome 25, using a Praktica LTL, sometime in the mid-1970s.
Alas most of these details no longer survive in their original glory, as the cinema is now a nightclub. And the same, sadly, is true of my pictures. Again the quality wasn’t that great but this time I did throw them away. A pity. I’d love a glimpse of that period-movie-theatre charm however cloudy the images.
So, my advice is hang onto everything. Don’t let anyone persuade you to delete your iffy shots. With the passage of time even technically flawed memories can be priceless.
Jon Bentley is a TV producer and presenter best known for Top Gear and Channel 5’s The Gadget Show