On the face of it, a photograph is such a simple thing; a piece of paper with a picture printed on it, a moment in time forever captured and frozen, never changing. But oh, the memories a simple snapshot can hold for the right person, one who was there when the picture was taken, who knew and cared for the people who stare back from the paper’s surface.
Jack has an unadorned metal box tucked way at the back of his desk drawer that’s filled almost to the brim with such memories, a stack of fragile paper images in sepia, black and white, and finally colour. These are the faces of the people who have touched his life and his heart over the past century and a half he’s spent on earth, or some of them at least; the ones he was lucky enough to get photos of before he lost them forever, as he always must, one way or another.
These pictures are some of his most treasured possessions, among the few truly irreplaceable things he owns, and he dreads the day he’ll inevitably lose them to the ravages of time. Photographs, no matter how high quality, are ephemeral things; they simply aren’t designed to last for a lifetime as long as his, and the faces preserved this way will exist only until the paper they’re printed on crumbles away to dust. No matter how careful he is with them, it’s just a matter of time before they’ll be gone, taking his precious memories with them.
He’s done what he can to protect them, even made copies and stored them in hermetically sealed boxes, locked away in vaults spread far and wide, a precaution against the possibility of wars, natural disasters, and even theft. He’s uploaded them to disc, and memory card, the Torchwood servers, and even his ever-faithful wrist-strap, but copies are just that, and despite the pictures being identical, they’re somehow not the same as these originals. Something indefinable always seems to get lost in the process.
Every so often, when his thoughts are drawn to the events of his past, Jack gets the box out of his drawer, opens it, and reverently goes through the treasured pictures, studying them, trying to remember as much as he can about the people behind those faces with their frozen smiles. He’s tried so hard to commit every little detail about them to memory, and yet despite all his efforts, each time the memories are less clear and little things escape him; their voices, the colour of their eyes, sometimes even their names, making him scrabble to turn the pictures over, quickly and clumsily, to read the captions written neatly on their backs. Even those are starting to fade on the oldest of the photos.
Jack’s going to live for eternity, or so the Doctor tells him; he’ll outlast everybody else, and every living thing in the entire universe. Generations of people and beings he’ll never even know of will live and die and be forgotten by their own kinds. Everyone who even so much as crosses his path will be gone in the blink of an eye, their lives are so short when compared to his. All Jack wants is to remember the ones who matter to him, whose existence has enriched his long and often lonely life. It doesn’t seem like much to ask, so few out of so many, but in the grand scheme of things, he knows it’s impossible. All he can really hope for is to hold on to each one, in person and in memory, for as long as he can, because they will always be the best part of him and the only thing that makes eternity bearable.