Uji, Kyoto, 2017

The Zen of Deleting Your Photos

Why is it so scary for us to delete our photos?

Photos are us.

This is my theory:

We see our photos as our personal memories. We see our memories as who we are. Therefore, by erasing our photos, we are erasing our memories, and we are erasing ourselves.

I have personal experiences having hard drives crash in the past. I lost thousands of personal photos from college– very personal memories.

When I found out my hard drive crashed and I couldn’t recover the photos and files — it literally felt like a piece of myself, inside my heart and soul died. I would pay anything to get those memories back.

My mom at my grandfathers funeral
My mom at my grandfathers funeral

Yet — I learned:

Our memories are more important than the photos.

Do photos tell the ‘truth’?

We make the sucker mistake of thinking that our photos are the most important thing — that our photos are real ‘physical proof’ of our memories, and our past selves.

Even in the movie Blade Runner, the Replicants have printed photographs. They believe they are ‘human’ because they have memories, in the ‘real’ form of photographs.

But — we are not our photos. Our memories are not the photos. And not only that– but photos aren’t any more ‘real’ than our memories of the events that have occurred to us in the past.

Does anyone ever frown in a family portrait?

Me and my mom. UCLA, 2009
Me and my mom. UCLA, 2009

Let me give you an example — let’s say you have a family photo of you, lets say at Disneyland, all smiling. The photograph doesn’t necessarily tell the truth — who knows — maybe you all smiled for the camera (but in reality, it was a horrible day).

Photographs are just propaganda of our past selves. Almost nobody frowns in a family photograph.

What is more important than photography?

Diagonal photo of Cindy, in Uji Kyoto 2017
Diagonal photo of Cindy, in Uji Kyoto 2017

This is important to know:

Living life to the fullest, and keeping the memories in our minds, hearts, and souls are more important than making photographs of it.

I still like to make photographs of my day-to-day life, and personally-meaningful events. Yet, I have to remind myself:

Don’t over-value the photographs, or see them as the most important thing.

People are more important than photographs. Also, your personal filtered memories of the past are more important than the photographs.

My mom and Cindy’s mom, exploring the farmer market of Paris for the first time. 2015
My mom and Cindy’s mom, exploring the farmer market of Paris for the first time. 2015

Because photographs can only show reflected light, and physical surfaces. Photographs cannot show smell, emotion, or the complex lattice-work of events that have happened in the past. The past, memories, and personal happenings are far more complex than just a simple photograph.

The joy of deleting your photos

Hanoi hands of 92 year old woman
Hanoi hands of 92 year old woman

Going back to photos — there is a certain zen of formatting your SD cards, or even deleting old photos.

Don’t be a digital hoarder– know that you are not your photos. Don’t be afraid to delete your photos.

My suggestion:

Before you delete a photo, smile, re-live the memory vividly, and try to commit it to your memory. Then smile (again), and hit delete.

Why delete photos of the past? So you can make NEW MEMORIES, to live in the present, and to look forward to the future.

Live and love your life,


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