I’ve recently been reading about Ritz Camera’s struggle for survival. Apparently, one of the main reasons the chain has struggled is that people no longer get their photos printed. They put them online and e-mail them to friends, satisfied with the instant gratification that digital media allows.
I can relate. I’ve often done the same with my photos.
But the story made me reflect on a personal project I’m working on. Not long ago, my mother moved into a retirement village. As we helped her pack her things, I came across 20 trays of slides my father shot, dating from the mid 1950s to the mid 1990s. My father was an avid amateur photographer and loved shooting color slides.
History in a Snapshot
I am currently going through all these images and scanning them to create DVDs for my siblings and to make prints to share.
It’s so interesting to look at these old photos and see how my family looked when we were young. Photography has power in its ability to trigger memories and to document life. These images are a great example of this power. A period of life is captured and frozen. The story of a time and place is told.
As I reflect on these photos, I am drawn to the conclusion that they are not just fun to look at — but important. They capture a slice of life that would be lost if we depended solely on professional photography to document the human experience.
The millions of moms and dads out there, recording their children’s various accomplishments and rites of passage, are doing more than just capturing junior’s first bicycle ride. They are providing a glimpse of what it is to be alive for the typical person at that point in history.
As enjoyable as it is to look at family photos when they are made, they gain power as time passes. In 20 or 30 years, they go from being a snapshot of a child’s birthday party to being a representation of a generation.
I’m grateful that my father recorded his images on slides. For I’m afraid that if my father were shooting photos in the digital era, most of the images shot over the years would have been lost to computer upgrades.
I can speak from my own experience. It’s so easy to make a series of photos, shoot them off in an e-mail to my friends, post them to a photo-sharing site or social network and then forget about them.
I wonder, in 30 years — when my daughters are about my age now — will they be able to find those images? Will the disks they are recorded on be outmoded and unreadable? Will the photo-sharing sites still be around?
I’m not sure. But I do know that if I get prints made of the best of my images, they will be seen and enjoyed for years to come.
I’ve begun to have prints made from my favorite images again, so that when I am gone my children will see these images and remember a time when things were different. When they were kids, and their parents weren’t so old and wrinkly.
As our daily lives go more and more digital, I hope we are not creating a generation of disposable images, lost bytes. I hope we do not leave behind a generation of kids who grow up and never see the photos of their first communion, or step, or day of school — because it is on a hard drive in a landfill somewhere.