“It won’t kill a baby” – this woman deletes photos for 125 euros an hour


    At the desk of an old New York apartment, Isabelle Dervaux organizes the lives of other people. She usually sorts out beautiful moments: sunsets, barbecue parties, a child’s first ice cream. But sometimes – it’s hard to avoid in her job – she also comes across things she would rather not see: intimate pictures of an ex-boyfriend, unflattering mirror selfies, skin rashes documented for the dermatologist.

    Dervaux, 60 years old, born in France, learns the secrets of countless strangers. She is what is called a personal photo curator in the US. Some Americans are now snapping so much with their cell phones that they lose track and hire professionals to sift through and sort everything. You could call Dervaux Marie Kondō for pictures. The famous Japanese author helps to clean out closets, Dervaux to clean out albums.

    “A lot of smartphones,” says the curator, “are totally overloaded.” She estimates that a typical American family takes more than 5,000 photos every year. “And everything is kept,” says Dervaux. “Ninety percent of the images belong in the wastebasket.”

    Dervaux is a representative of a new profession. Personal photo curators seem to become indispensable in a time when storage space is cheap and seemingly endless, so cell phone users don’t need to restrain themselves. This year, according to forecasts by the Boston-based market research company Rise Above Research, humanity is likely to take 1.5 trillion pictures, 90 percent of them with smartphones. So every second the world clicks and flashes tens of thousands of times.

    “This creates a gigantic chaos,” says Dervaux. “On cell phones, holiday pictures are mixed with photographed tax documents and screenshots of recipes.” That overwhelms people, paralyzes them, and hardly anyone looks at the albums anymore. “Life’s important moments disappear in a digital haystack, strewn across iPhones, iPads and laptops.”

    Dervaux has lived in the US for 30 years and used to work as an illustrator for Vogue and other magazines. If you want her to sort out the chaos on your cell phone, you pay $125 an hour. A multi-day course, in which Dervaux teaches you how to select good pictures yourself and delete the rest without regret, costs $2,985. Her clients come primarily from New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. For her, Dervaux is more than a sorter: she is the custodian of happy memories.

    “Parents are my most difficult cases,” says the 60-year-old. Hardly any father or mother wants to part with baby photos of a child, even if they show the same scene from 30 different perspectives. “Then I tell them: If you press the delete button, you won’t kill your baby with it.”

    It doesn’t come as a surprise that the profession of photo curator is born in America of all places. Many citizens here are used to getting help – be it from a therapist or personal fitness trainer. Now there are specialists who sort the past. So far there are around 700 of them nationwide, they are organized in an association that also offers training and awards certificates. The industry is professionalizing. And she could have a future. An advertisement by the association at least states: “The need for photo curators is exploding!”

    Dervaux mostly works from home, on a laptop. But that’s not possible with her latest project. A Brooklyn borough woman asked her to sort through 40,000 paper photos sitting in her basement. The recordings go back 30 years. Dervaux is now thinning out the collection. And radically so. She wants to keep no more than 200 pictures from each year. “I have to be ruthless,” she says.

    But how does she decide what survives? The customer, she says, took dozens of photos of her children on a family trip to Manhattan, for example. One happens to be showing the Twin Towers, the twin towers that used to dominate New York’s skyline and collapsed in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. “This motif goes into the collection,” says Dervaux, “because it’s historical.”

    A picture, they say, says more than a thousand words. Most of the pictures say nothing for Dervaux. She asks herself three questions when sorting: Does the recording convey an emotion? Does it depict an important memory? Is she beautiful? The answer has to be yes at least once, otherwise Dervaux shows no mercy. “If a photo shows the happy daughter on the playground and a garbage can in the background,” she explains, “it will be deleted.” Even if it’s too dark, too bright or out of focus, get rid of it immediately, no matter how nice the child smiles.

    All of that sounds harsh. But Dervaux claims: It is healthy. “Photo hygiene,” she says, “feels liberating.” People who regularly part with photos are better off. “Images catapult us into the past. If you have too many, you risk missing out on the present.”

    But there could be more at stake than personal well-being. The whole planet suffers when people keep useless photos. When billions of blurred images of children, cats and avocado toast clog the clouds worldwide. Because large data centers need a lot of water to cool their servers, a lot of water: according to estimates by IT experts, ten to 20 million liters a day. This corresponds to the consumption of a city with 30,000 to 50,000 inhabitants.

    In addition, the data centers emit carbon dioxide. The Institution of Engineering and Technology in London published a disturbing calculation on the subject last year. The researchers warned that the photos taken by the British alone, which are forgotten and slumbering on some server, are responsible for as many emissions as 112,500 flights from England to Australia every year.

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