Summer camp. 2002. Tennessee.
And three disposable Fuji-film point and shoot cameras.
The moment actually happened a week after coming back to Michigan. I was full of bug bites, weird suntan lines, and memories; and I was standing in line at the photo center in Meijer. I was about to see a complete recap of one of the best weeks of my life to date. My 15 year old self and all the people that made up my reality were going to be captured in a 4×6 rectangle of matte photo paper, forever. It was the first time that I remember deeply valuing the power of the printed picture. I could see the faces and know that it had all been real.
This was before the avalanche of smart phones and social media had buried our appreciation in seeing a picture for the first time after it was printed.
But really, how inconvenient is printing pictures, right?
Today we have it sooo much easier. No more hoping we got the shot. We just take 23 pictures until we get that selfie exactly how we want it, and scrap the first 22. And printing? pssh. That’s what Facebook’s for, kids. I just got 89 Likes on that profile picture – why would I need to spend money and print it out? My friends and family have already seen it. Besides, it’s so much safer that it’s backed up to my laptop or even better, the Cloud. I’ll never lose it there.
Maybe we don’t even verbalize the way we approach photography, but it has indeed changed.
I keep thinking back to that summer. It changed my life in so many ways. I still dig out my memory box from time to time to hold those photos. They’re faded and a bit crumpled now, but they’re proof of something. Proof I was in that space, with those people, in that very important time of my teenage years. I see a blurred face and a long forgotten feeling comes over me. I dig a little further and find more photos….of people and places and memories that happened before I ever existed. What if my grandparents had had smart phones? Would they still be stuck in a Cloud somewhere, or a forgotten iphone? Would I be able to hold a portrait of the grandmother I never met and see her smile and see myself?
I’m all for convenience. I’m all for technological advances. But I’m also for preservation. Some things should never pass away with time.
The printed photograph is one of them.
Printing liberates your photographs. On paper, your images are a part of the physical world. Data has no substance. A megapixel isn’t a physical thing. Printed photographs, however, give the people that view them an experience. And it provides the subject in the photograph an opportunity to explain themselves in a way words could not.
So let’s take those pictures. And take tons of them. Hire professionals to take your portraits.(shameless photographer plug) But most importantly, do not sacrifice these images, these memories, at the hands of technological progress.
Hard drives break down.
Smart phones are stolen.
Software updates can mess with our data.
Easy doesn’t always spell out the best. Someday we’ll have to explain to our kids what a CD was, just like a VHS, just like a record, just like a floppy disk…and then we’ll have to explain why we don’t have any pictures of Grandma on the wall since our computers aren’t compatible with the old way of preserving images.
Your favorite people will look much better lining the halls of your home than stuck forever in your Instagram feed.
First day of spring. 2016. Michigan.
Just placed an order for 49 prints from my smartphone.
I can’t wait to fill another photo album.