Just to be upfront, I consider myself to be an evangelist for photography, family history and memory making. I believe that a powerful connection can be made with our personal histories through photos; a connection that is more powerful than any written or spoken words alone can achieve. Hearing your grandmother say that you look just like her youngest brother is nothing compared to seeing the proof of that resemblance in a photo. The photos that we take today can have that same kind of impact on some future relative, likely in ways that we can’t imagine.
For most of us, taking pictures is fun. We really enjoy snapping pictures and we do try to keep in mind that we are telling our own stories through images. For some, an event isn’t complete until there is a picture taken to preserve and memorialize the moment. Photography should be that fun, that carefree, and at the same time that important. Picture taking is the best tool we have to record our times.
Every photo is an historical record; by their very nature photos always capture and preserve a moment that has come and gone. Some of those moments are just for fun while others mark an occasion or an event. No matter what subject is captured in a photo it is always frozen in a moment that can’t be recreated. Photos certainly outlive the slice of time that they depict, what is in doubt is if they will outlive our own generation. Digital imaging has made us rather cavalier about the preservation part of the photographer’s job.
Digital photography liberated camera owners from the expense of film and developing. After investing in a camera, a memory card, and a handful of batteries there are seemingly no other costs. With film photography we had to pay to have the exposed film turned into prints that we could actually see.
Digital changed photography forever, now we can see our images seconds after exposure using the camera’s LCD screen or on our computer monitors. There is no expensive developing involved so prints aren’t made very often. By following this model I think we have set ourselves up for a big problem.
Unfortunately photographic prints got lumped in with the expense of shooting film. When we went digital we quickly forgot to separate the desirable outcome of having prints from the cost of film developing in our minds.
The ease of sharing pictures electronically meant we no longer had to wait until ‘twin print Tuesday’ to share copies of our images with family and friends. But that sidesteps one of the most relevant and pressing reasons to create a photographic print – preservation and continuation of our family histories.
I am not a ‘Flat Earther’ when it comes to technology. I love the options that I have at my disposal because of the internet, a computer and the clever, creative programming and thought of countless engineers. I have a Flick’r account, I use Facebook, Google + and Twitter. I have many gigabytes of image files on my computer’s various hard drives. But I still make photographic prints too.
I make prints because I remember all too well my investments in technology over the years. I recall my IBM PC Jr. and it’s 5 ¼” floppy disks, my later Zip-Drive and my 3.5” diskettes. I think about my 8-track tapes, cassette tapes and even my LP collection. I get angry over the investment I lost in Betamax tapes even as I purchase Blu-Ray versions of movies that I already own on VHS. I love technology and I swim in it daily, I am simply very aware that for technology to progress some other older technology likely dies.
Given these very real changes in technology, what can we assume will happen to Facebook, Flick’r and Twitter? There are already reasons to not entrust your images 100% to internet services (see this blog entry on Cloud Storage).
In fact we need to question the longevity of the very digital image files themselves. When was the last time someone sent you a TARGA image file type? This was the flower of 1984 imaging technology back when image quality was tied directly to CRT screens; today it’s a relic that can’t be opened by many image viewing programs. Almost any of today’s camera RAW files could fall victim to the same fate. Each camera brand, and in many cases each camera model, uses a specialty RAW file type that 40 years from now may not have a reader available.
So, why do I make photographic prints of my digital image files? Because any print I made in the year that I purchased my Betamax tape player can still be viewed and enjoyed. Because the image files I had uploaded and shared through Yahoo! Pictures were lost when they shuttered their business, but the 4X6’s I made from those files are still in my photo albums.
I make prints because in my opinion there is a very different emotional connection that comes from holding a physical picture in your hands compared to observing that same image on a computer monitor or cell phone screen.
We need to enjoy our photography; it’s fun and makes an event feel even more special when someone whips out a camera to take a shot. Using digital cameras has liberated us from the endless develop and print cycle of film. We can document our lives and our worlds like no other generation before us.
We also need to be sure that we are doing our part to ensure that we preserve the best or most important images that we capture. We need to keep in mind that we aren’t just sharing our pictures with a friend 200 miles away with an email; we should also take steps to preserve our pictures in order to share them with a family member that hasn’t even been born yet.
I am an evangelist for photography, family history and memory making. I think that this stuff is important and I know that I’m not alone. Do I print every picture that I should? No, not always, but I try. For years I have incorporated this quote in my email signature line, as much a reminder to myself as an invitation to others:
“A picture says a thousand words, but a memory card is mute! Shoot. Print. Share.”