In Praise Of the Shoebox

The humble shoebox has served as a photographic receptacle for many generations of many families. I think  it has received far less praise that it deserves. So let us supply some now:

a. It is cheap. Far cheaper than albums, hard drives, scrap books, and paid storage on someone else’s computer. Far cheaper than buying your own computer. If you got the shoebox with a set of good leather oxfords, there is a chance that the shoes will wear long enough to let you consider the box as a free gift.

b. It is portable. You can take a shoebox with you in moves between apartments, trailers, house, and dorm rooms. It is equally at home in all of these – if there is a hall closet this can be considered archival storage comparable to the Smithsonian.

c. It is big enough to find. Hard drives are not – thumb drives and CD’s can disappear faster than ice in Angola. The shoe box has a certain presence.

d. It is burglar-proof. Oh, an intruder might see it and lift the lid, but no-one wants the postcard and wallet-size pictures in it. Except you.

e. It is universal. Most shoe boxes will take 5 x 7’s – all shoeboxes will take postcards and smaller. Slides fit in there as well. It can also take keepsakes and pressed flowers and newspaper notices.

f. It cannot fail like a hard drive.

g. It can be accessed by the computer-illiterate – the old people, the very young, the non-English speakers. Just lift the lid and look at the family.

h. The pictures need not be glued in with some dodgy acidic gunk – you can write on the back of them in pencil for the sake of your memory. It’s about as archival as you can get without becoming a white-gloved museum weirdo.

i. You can have as many shoe boxes as you want. People don’t want ’em and if you do, there is your ready source of storage.

j. You can grab it and run in case of a fire. You can’t do that with your computer.

k. Lightning storms won’t bother your storage.

Does this all sound silly and simplistic and pointless? As the owner of three dead hard drives and three dead computers, I can assure you it is not. Most of the information has been recovered and transferred but one hard drive contains locked-in images that are going to be very expensive to get back. At the same time, the family horde of photos in the shoe box continues to be perfectly readable. If I want to go to IKEA and splash out on Swedish shoe boxes I can even consider myself organised…

Featured image: Self-propelled shoebox…



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