PetaPixel

Print What You Want to Preserve

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August 30, 2026
My dear child,

I can’t believe that tomorrow at this time my little girl will be a married woman. I look back on the last 24 years and I want to do it all over again. I know that can’t happen, but I do have my memories, at least.

When you were born, it was the happiest day of my life. The waiting, the wondering, the worry, the exhaustion and then, that moment when you were placed in my arms for the first time. I couldn’t stop staring at you.

Your dad and I knew that the day of your birth was the most important day of our life, and we took hundreds of pictures. We even laughed about how you would be the most photographed baby on the planet. I wish we could show you the pictures, but the computer crashed when you were around 9 months old and, well, we’d never printed any, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

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The years flew by and before we knew it, it was time to start school. You were quite the proud little thing with your Dora the Explorer backpack and lunchbox. At least, I think it was Dora the Explorer; it could have been the Disney Princesses. I remember it was pink, but beyond that it’s a little hazy. We took your pictures in the driveway before you left for school, and I saved them on a CD, but the silly thing refused to open, so we had to throw it away.

The next five years seem to rush by in a whirlwind of activity: soccer games, birthday parties, field trips and just the everyday wonderfulness of being with you. You would get so frustrated with me every time I would pull out the camera and say, “Smile!” but you always ended up giving me the perfect picture.

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Even our lazy afternoons together lying on the couch or helping you with your homework — I photographed it all. I downloaded them to a hard drive (I had sworn off CDs … lesson learned) but when we moved from the old house, the box containing the hard drive was accidentally dropped and the drive shattered. I sent it in to see if the files could be recovered, but the cost was around $2000, so dad and I had to pass on that.

Do you even remember the old house? The backyard where you practiced soccer and the fort you built using the swing set? Oh, of course you don’t — not without pictures to look back on. What am I thinking?

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And then, dear one, before we knew it, high school was upon us. Every day seemed to bring a new bit of drama and excitement. I suppose that’s how high school is, though. All those sleepovers with your friends. Dad and I both looked forward to them and dreaded them because we knew you’d be up all night shrieking and laughing.

I can see the three of you now, sitting in your pajamas, doing each other’s nails and hair, watching movies, laughing about boys. Remember that one shot we took of the three of you lying on the floor, laughing so hard you were crying? It was one of my favorite images I’ve ever taken.

I told your dad that night that I wanted to remember this moment forever, so I transferred it to a brand new USB drive. And it’s a good thing it was a new one, because although it didn’t save all of them, at least we have a couple. No, they weren’t my favorites, and your eyes are closed in them, but at least I have them for posterity.

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It was around then that time started revving its engine and I knew that our time with you was coming to an end. Watching you walk down the aisle in your cap and gown to accept your diploma … I have no words to describe that moment. It felt like the all my hopes and dreams for you were coming true and all the prayers and worry and mothering had paid off.

You were so beautiful. Remember how you couldn’t decide if you should wear your hair up or down? We almost got in a fight over that, didn’t we? In the end, you decided on down. Or, was it up? It was one of the two. If I had prints, I would know for sure, but knowing the importance of the day, I uploaded all the graduation photos to an online cloud system.

Before I wrote this to you, I went to the website to relive the memories and found out, sadly, that they are no longer in business. So, I guess unless YOU remember how you wore your hair, it will have to remain a mystery.

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Oh, and grandma was in those images, too. She wasn’t doing well at the time, but she insisted on attending the graduation. Little did we know it would be the last pictures she would ever take, but I remember how she held on to you so tight. It’s funny, I said I would never forget that moment, my mom and my daughter each holding each other, but without having anything to look at, it’s kind of hard. I remember thinking it was a once-in-a-lifetime moment. I guess it was. Grandma always said, “Print what you want to preserve,” didn’t she? At least we still have all her childhood photos in that album.

And now, you are about to make a commitment to the love of your life. In less than 24 hours, you will be a married woman. You will start on your own adventure, and before you know it you’ll have a family of your own with which you will make the same marvelous memories.

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You will be the most beautiful bride in the whole world. After months of planning, the wedding will come together in one spectacular day. I want you to remember each and every moment, hold it in your heart and keep it for always.

And to help you with that, I’ve got my iPhone ready. Let’s hope I remember to download the images before I lose the phone, like I did last time.


Editor’s note: A big thank you to all of the creative commons photographers whose photos illustrate this piece.


Image credits: Newborn by Joshua Rappeneker, First day of school – a First Grader! by thomas pix, First day of school by Roebot, Playing with sister by Lou & Traci plus, Sleepover by Mike Hauser, Tracy High School Class of 2010 by daveparker and Squires-Smith Wedding by Ismar Badzic.


 
 
  • TommyBoy

    Funny, sad and true!

  • gochugogi

    Or you could keep backups. You can’t print all the keepers.

  • http://www.vincentmorretino.com/ fast eddie

    This is the exact reason I make multiple backups, including cloud based and external drives. The externals get retired in my fire proof safe after 1 year of use.

    In regards to photos of my child, I make an annual photo book and have it produced by Apple. I also take advantage of Adorama’s print sales which happen several times per year. Can’t beat $1 8x10s :D

  • lidocaineus

    Heads up: fireproof safes don’t really protect from heat – most media devices will fail at the temperatures allowed on the inside of those things, which range anywhere from 125 degrees up to 400+; even 125 (which are the hardest to get) can damage your drives.

  • Kevin

    If this girl is 25 today, that means the author would’ve had started taking digital pictures of her in 1988. I can’t help but be skeptical.
    And she could’ve added a story about their house flooding or burning down and losing all of her prints in this fictional narrative, so what is she trying to prove? Every storage medium carries a degree of risk. Online backups have the least risk.

  • Burnin Biomass

    The story starts… “August 30, 2026″.

  • Burnin Biomass

    At like .15 cents a 4×6 print and cheaper, you can print a lot of the keepers.

  • sc

    I see the “what about house fires” comment every time on articles like this. How common do people thing house fires are compared to HD / computer / backup failure? Seriously.

  • summerjunkie

    A little hooey but ya gotta do what ya gotta do to make a buck….nice bit of advertising
    .

  • Benjamin Lukoff

    Or you could do both.

  • Kevin

    Reading comprehension fail, my bad.

  • Kevin

    I’d say it’s way more likely than an online storage service shutting down without telling you first.

  • Chester A. Arthur

    The article has nice sentiment, but it doesn’t offer good advice. It’s always nice to make prints, regardless of data/physical security. But if you really were advising people on how to maximize security of images — particularly ones in digital forms — you’d advise them to make multiple digital backups, to varying locations. Not print them all in analog form.

    1. Digital data is fragile in certain ways, but prints are not durable and have a very finite lifespan.

    2. It’s very easy to make multiple local backups of digital data. If you have a backup drive, just back up the whole thing to another drive(s).

    3. It’s very easy to physically secure digital data: a cheap, safe-deposit box can hold multiple copies on multiple forms of media of multiple lifetimes’ worth of photos.

    4. And it’s even easier to back up all of this to the cloud, where it’ll be recorded on storage with the highest level of physical security and redundancy. And one can do this to more than one cloud service. Very likely for free.

    5. Making multiple backups to multiple forms of media and storing them in a safe-deposit box and also backing up to a paid, unlimited cloud storage service is cheaper and less of a hassle than printing out every single image you want to preserve for posterity, organizing them, and storing them. And the images will be preserved at full resolution and will not be subject to physical fading of pigments.

    The advice should be: Back Up What You Want to Preserve. And Do It Right.

  • Chester A. Arthur

    Or, less verbosely: diligent preservation of prints is possibly safer than half-assed collection of digital files, but that’s a false dilemma.

    The real best choice is: practice diligent preservation of digital files.

  • Norshan Nusi

    I prefer print as well.
    Still keeping a picture of my loved one in my wallet too.

    Who knows if some of the image format (especially RAW) will be obsolete in the future?

    Backing up the digital files is the best for long term though. Original image file is preserved at its best for reprinting in the future.

    Just like Chester A. Arthur said.

    Will jpeg stay usable in the future? I really hope so….

  • Ramón

    My wife’s family survived WWII with only one picture. Every couple a months we print our favorite pics, for our album and then send extra sets to grandparents. Some are bound to make it to the future.

  • Maay

    Every year, we spend a couple of hours a day for a few days to sort and select our best family pictures, and print them (a few hundred !). Some are sent to friends and family.

    We have multiple digital backups on hard disks, DVDs, cloud services… we have a very thorough backup plan.

    But better safe than sorry, i fully, totally, wholeheartedly, agree with this article : print as much as possible !

  • BDWT

    Both. …in combination with as many free cloud based services or sites like Flickr, Dropbox, Copy.. anywhere that you can post the original file sizes, really.

  • Desslok

    And thus, this is why film is superior to digital. I still have photos and negatives from 1898 per-revolution Vladivostok that look pretty damn good. Will JPG still be a thing in 2089?

  • neo

    Byline is 2026?

    Is this article from THE FUTURE? What can you tell us?

    You traveled back from 2026 to tell us to print out our pictures? Is something terrible going to happen?!

  • PhotoDad

    I create photo books annually for both of my kids. I use one of the photo printing websites like MyPublisher or Blurb. It’s a lot of fun to create, and we get to look at and share the books throughout the year (and beyond). In fact, we are taking a trip to Disney in September and I plan to make them a photo book of our trip. Shhh, don’t tell them. It’s a surprise!

  • Humaid

    This what happen to me! I lost my harddrive adn cots is 2000$ to recover my kid birthday to 2 year old along with other pro and family works .. What is solution?

  • Marcia Leifer

    Wow. This story can probably be told millions of times over.
    I know from my own personal experience, I had about 100 pictures in my phone which I kept saying I was going to either print out or download onto my computer. Many of them were of my son, & many more with his Dad &/or me or other important people in his life. Last year, when I lost my son, I had the pictures to often get me through the day.
    Then my phone had a problem & I lost all my photographs.
    If I could only have had the chance to see them again I would have used a cloud saving program in a heartbeat.

  • Patrick Murray

    I own a camera store and can tell you lots of sad stories. I still shoot film which looks better and requires little effort for long term storage. I take picture taking seriously and don’t have to shoot hundreds photo like digital users.
    Shoot less and print more.

  • Dude

    true but people change the emails , forget passwords , emails get sent to spam folder