In Defense of a Full Camera Roll

In Defense of a Full Camera Roll

By Jennifer Batchelor:

There are more than 11,000 pictures on my iPhone camera roll.

11,494, to be exact.

If that number makes your eye twitch, know that yes, they’re backed up to the Cloud. And yes, I know I should probably delete several (thousand) of them to free up space on my phone.

But I just can’t bring myself to do it.

I feel like I need to explain that I’m not really a nostalgic person. I don’t keep a lot of mementos or keepsakes or tchotchkes. I’m also not opposed to general order and organization—I’ve been known to ROYGBV my closet, everything neatly arranged in a gradual gradient of color. I am uncluttered in every aspect of my aesthetic except one: my camera roll.

They aren’t pictures I keep for their amazing artistic merit. I’m no professional photographer—we hire someone every year for family pictures, and it’s those prints you’ll find tastefully matted and framed on our walls. No, a scroll through my iPhone photo album will reveal a collection of remarkably mundane moments captured at unflattering angles in uninspired lighting.

So if I’m not a natural packrat or wildly talented photographer, why the overloaded camera roll?

Simple: the subject. Namely: my children.

Camera Roll

You see, they’re 9 and 6 now, although I’d swear they were 1 and 4 not five minutes ago. I’m not sure where exactly all the days went or how time passed so quickly; it’s less than a blur, really. Truthfully I don’t even know everything I don’t remember, until I’m reminded by my camera roll.

Like any other parent in our modern times, my iPhone is rarely beyond my grasp and I use it often. Capturing firsts moments, funny moments, tender moments. Images I’d text to my husband at work or to the grandparents. Thousands of them, snapped at the press of my thumb—often before immediately dropping my phone to avert disaster or break up a fight or clean up a mess.

Camera Roll

I never seemed to find the time to go back and delete them—I would intend to, only to forget, and over the days, weeks, and years they added up. Now I have a treasure trove of moments that I’m certain I would no longer recall without the digital reminders.

I forgot the weeks when my son woke up every morning singing songs, until I rewatched the video of him singing “Jesus Loves Me” over the baby monitor.

Camera Roll

Then there was the phase his sister went through where she refused to look at me while she ate her lunch—a phase I’d, yes, forgotten, until I saw the picture of her with her chubby, toddler arm thrown across her eyes while she ate a grilled cheese sandwich. When my thumb paused on it, I chuckled. That’s right, I mused. Her iron will isn’t a new development. I felt more settled about our recent battles and power struggles because oh yes, it’s almost always been this way.

While I don’t want to necessarily go back and relive the days of life with littles—they were exhausting, demanding, relentless—I’m selfishly glad they left me with little time for purging my camera roll. At the time, I was so consumed with living (and sometimes, simply surviving) those days that I’m not sure I really experienced them. And because of that, my memory often fails me. 

But, for all its hardness and overwhelm, it’s also a time I want to hold onto. And so, I let my phone memory keep what my own cannot always reliably recall—the simple, everyday ordinariness of watching my two children grow up.