“Loving can hurt. We keep these memories in a photograph,” sings Ed Sheeran in his iconic song “Photograph.” Memories of our deceased loved ones are held in these precious images. What do we do when there are just so many photographs? They overwhelm us – albums are crammed into closets because getting rid of any of them seems like a violation of our loved one’s memories. It’s all we have left. The idea of tossing them in the trash with coffee grounds or banana peels feels unthinkable.

You may find a solution by creating a unique ritual to return the images to the earth. Performing this act with love and respect will help reduce your discomfort with the process of discarding photos.

Photo Release Ritual and Review: Water Release

Once you have identified photos that you’re ready to part with, you can begin your preparations.

  • Set up a bowl of water and immerse your photos. Stone or heavy shells may help hold photos in place underneath the surface of the water. It’s likely that photos will need to stay immersed for 3 to 5 days.
  • As you place photos in the water, consider the release that is occurring.
  • Right away, pull a small amount of water from the bowl while thinking about what you’d like to retain. This water may be used in a new potted plant or in a special space outdoors.
  • Say, “I release these tangible objects, but I choose to keep what is intangible, ________ (love, memories, hope)”

If you’re using a water bath, be mindful that after prolonged soaking, some photos can leach chemicals into the water, depending on how they were processed. Do not dispose of this water through a drain or in the ground. Be mindful of keeping the water away from children or pets. Follow the advice of your local waste management department.

Creative Release through Sponging

Photo Release SpongingConsider the process of sponging and “cleansing” through an application of an acrylic primer (gesso) directly over your photo. The image will be blank, maintaining privacy, while allowing for the possibility of future creative use. The act of sponging the primer over the photos can be experiential in creating a blank space – one that may help welcome new beginnings.

  • Protect your work surface and spread out photos.
  • Soak a large, industrial sponge in a bowl of water. Wring it out, and dip it into the gesso. Then, gently sponge primer over your photos. They will seemingly fade away as the layers of gesso are applied.
  • Say, “I release and allow these objects to be changed, to hold new meaning, _________ (repurposing, embracing acceptance for what is new)”
  • Consider the new space that is being transformed – creating a new layer of possibility.

These primed surfaces lead to many interesting options. You may want to keep them for yourself or share them with others.

Additional Resources
The ABCs of photo organization — Modern Heirloom Books
How to dispose of old photos • Karen Kingston’s Blog