Henrietta Thompson: Is it time to put our holiday snaps back in the frame?


This summer (which happened last weekend, in case you missed it), I was mostly to be found spreading out a huge box of old photographs to dry in the sun in my dad's garden. Holiday snaps, I thought, as I salvaged pack after pack of rain-soaked Prontaprints featuring Seventies blue skies and Nineties nostalgia, have changed phenomenally. And so, it seems, have the holidays themselves.

The box belonged to a friend who'd moved abroad and left it in Wales for safekeeping. Fast forward eight years, my dad needs his attic space back. Permission duly given, the box was now destined for the bonfire. Forty packs of photographs, spanning two-and-a-half decades, would burn and disappear forever.

Such is life. The fire was built, the box was put out. But then ... our friend changed his mind. While shipping costs are still prohibitive for a huge crate of holiday snaps to be sent across the Channel, the nifty new scanning service at www.vintagephotolab.com meant that we could cost effectively save his memories from the flames. And so I valiantly waded in to rescue, peel apart and dry out the wet prints, and pack them up for a courier to collect. We'd leave it to the scanner to do the rest, condensing the bulk into a single DVD.

Nowadays, we edit and we artistically filter our holiday photos, but does that mean that in doing so we're distorting our (beach) views and similarly, our memories? Or have camera phones and digital techniques actually, in some strange way, made us better travellers?

I am, I'm a little bit sorry to say, that person who shamelessly uploads photos of my travels right there and then. I resisted for ages on the grounds that it was too much like showing off, but in the end the alternative – pretending to play it cool – became a bit boring. I decided instead that it's OK to do, but there's an etiquette to it: 1) Try not to gloat; 2) Don't overdo it; 3) Keep it interesting, fun or beautiful; 4) Beaches do have a tendency to upset people at 3pm on a Friday afternoon – sensitivity should always be deployed.

It was when holidaying on my own in Thailand, that I realised photo-sharing also has a potential to improve your travel experiences. Sharing my daily adventures made me not only feel connected to my friends and family back home, but it also pushed me to explore the country much further than I probably would have done otherwise. I now use Instagram as a travel journal, and I love it.

And perhaps the prospect of snapping envy-inducing shots to casually upload and share with near-strangers is pushing many to try more exotic experiences, spend more on holidays or even seek out more picturesque locations when booking. The beauty of social media is that friends can turn off any updates they don't want to see. It's hardly the same as being forced to sit through an Eighties-style slideshow, is it?

Although, with scanning services bringing old holiday photos back out of our attics, maybe that would be a fun idea. Snap-sharing gatherings could well become the new bonfire party.

Henrietta Thompson is editor-at-large for 'Wallpaper' magazine

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