Life has a way of changing our perspectives. As time goes by, all kinds of things happen. We experience joys, successes, failures, tragedies, we learn new things—and all of it helps us to grow and changes not only how we view the world but how we view our own art. That’s why I think it’s an interesting idea to periodically go back and look at our old images. I’m not talking the images we’ve processed and finished, but rather our archives of negatives and digital files. To my mind, these archives are a potential goldmine.
That’s because this new perspective that life and experience gives us over time may mean that suddenly, photographs that we didn’t think were worth processing years ago now suddenly look like very good possibilities. It’s something I’ve seen in my own work, these old images that I passed over before, but now I feel as though I can do something with them.
Why is that? It’s not that the images in our archives changed. Rather, it could be any number of different factors. Perhaps a decade ago, you simply didn’t have the inspiration to take this idea and turn it into something art worthy, but now, after years of creating, you see this old image in a new way, and you suddenly realize just what it needs to turn it into a masterpiece.
It could even be something simple, like you didn’t know a processing technique that could have turned an average image into an amazing one. But since that time, you’ve learned this technique, and now you’re ready to apply it to this old image.
In many cases, I think this sudden change of opinions about old images in our archives comes from a more introspective source. Life and the experiences we’ve undergone since taking that photograph, a wealth of different things that have changed us as people and given us new perspectives.
You may be surprised to find, as you browse your archives, that a random, one-off shot that you took years ago has now come to represent something. Perhaps it’s an image of a favorite tree that you took as a snapshot so that you could remember it, but now that tree is gone, you’ve grown, and life has filled with responsibilities—and that means you find yourself with less time to enjoy relaxing in the shade. Consequently, this image, once a snapshot, may now mean to you that you wished you’d taken just a bit of extra time to enjoy that particular tree’s shade on hot summer afternoons.
Now comes the next step. These new meanings, drawn out by years of life experiences and shifting perspectives—can they be exposed through post processing? Can you use these new ideas to recreate the original image, but better, or create a brand new image based around the thoughts and feelings that the original has given you? Perhaps the original can be the foundation of a new photography project if you now see a story you can tell where one didn’t exist before.
We often ignore our archives, leave them to gather dust. But those old images can be valuable. They’re a tappable resource of potential art that we can expand on. Maybe all we needed was time and fresh perspectives to let some of these images mature properly.