I'm looking for one specific photograph, a jpg taken on my iPhone, which I know was sent to my partner over Messages, towards the end of 2019. I don't have it in what used to be Camera Roll on the phone nor in Photos.app on phone or Mac, so I'm going to have to dig it out from Messages.
I thought this was going to be a few minutes' job. I started by scrolling back in Messages, but then realised it would be quicker to find their storage location & sort by date… neither was successful.
If I scroll back a Messages conversation, then for the past six months or so I can see all attachments, pictures etc in-line as normal.

Once I get past that then they've apparently been archived somewhere & I can't find where. I have never 'cleaned' this conversation manually. This appears to be some automatic action taken without my knowledge. I could imagine my phone would do that to save space, but I didn't expect it on the Mac.

enter image description here

If I click on any of those down arrows, the picture will reload. This, as you can imagine, is not the fastest way to find a specific photo :\
If I search in Finder, Kind: jpeg image inside the Attachments folder at ~/Library/Containers/com.apple.iChat/Data/Library/Messages/Attachments I see only the same images as are already inlined. After I refetch an older one, it then appears at today's date.

enter image description here Click for full size

Searching the entire drive from Finder gives no other clues.
Using EasyFind to search hidden locations & packages etc for img_ reveals nothing more. BTW, I am not searching for _DSD files, they're from my "proper" photos.

My Messages are synced over iCloud between Mac & iPhone, though very little else is. I don't have my Photos on there, for instance. The only app I sync on iCloud Drive is Maps, nothing else. I sync things like Contacts, Calendars etc, not "multimedia" of any sort, so I don't expect the repository to be iCloud.

enter image description here

Are these images really held in iCloud, even though I haven't asked for them to be?

I am in no way short of data space, 1TB SSD boot drive, only half full & 12TB of other drives in this Mac. I have none of the iCloud Storage Management options enabled.

macOS 10.14.6 (latest this Mac can run) on Mac Pro 5,1.

  • Random thought: Some time ago, I recall seeing a "library file" of some description in my ~/Pictures folder. I investigated & read something to the effect this was a folder with "older" photos in it.
    – Seamus
    Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 22:13
  • If you click on Details in the Messages window, you can scroll through all the images. I'm not aware of how this works in regard to not downloaded images, I've never even seen that UI. If they do in fact download, it would be from the iMessage servers, and wouldn't count against your iCloud storage unless you're syncing them. Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 4:45
  • @At0mic - Hmm… yes - it does say they're in iCloud. Do you want to add that as an answer?
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 10:29

1 Answer 1


After comments

It does appear that these are shuffled off to iCloud, whether you want them to be or not.
From the Details button, top right, then scroll right down - rather blurred picture to demonstrate

enter image description here

Clicking that Download restores them to their correct location. How long before it decides to remove them again I've yet to discover.

  • This is my experience. Very low res thumbnails are kept in the local database but the actual images are cloud-only for older attachments. I’m fighting with Apple support to delete my “orphaned” images where I no longer have the thumbnail or conversation to purge the 20 GB of space these orphaned images use up.
    – bmike
    Commented Jan 16, 2021 at 15:59
  • @bmike - Not even a thumbnail - it just took the files from me without asking & left placeholders. Not my idea of 'correct' behaviour. You may have gathered before now that I like to be in charge of my own destiny when it comes to backups & data storage ;)
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Jan 16, 2021 at 16:02
  • Oh wow, my breakage isn’t that bad. I am indeed aware of your stance, I admire it.
    – bmike
    Commented Jan 16, 2021 at 16:10

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