Why I’ve Gone Back to Making Prints of Family Photos


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.

Digital Disposability

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.


12 Responses to “Why I’ve Gone Back to Making Prints of Family Photos”

  1. Hi,
    I also found old slides and reels in my parents house. I don't know if they are good or what to do with them. Should I bring them somewhere? I thought maybe you could give me some advise.
    Thanks,
    Maureen

  2. Maureen,
    The slides and reels that you have can be transfered to DVD's which will allow you to view them for years to come and will protect them. You can also take the slides and either put them on DVD or you can take the images and put them in a book format. You can do all of these things and more at any RItz Camera store.

  3. I completely agree. I just ran across old images my grandmother had and it was really cool to go through.
    My local Ritz Camera store (that has now shut down) showed me their custom photobooks on their website and I really like it! It ends up looking much nicer than a regular album, was easy to make and I can order multiple coplies later on. I made one of my wedding, and ended up ordering 2 more copies becuse our parents wanted one each. So far I have made 4 different books from different events like my gradfather's 80th birthday and a recent trip to Sweden.
    I really like it because its easy to find my imges from a specific event. (and to show off my wedding :-)

  4. About 12 years ago I watched TV coverage of a forest fire very close to homes that had to be evacuated. Residents were fleeing their homes carrying suitcases filled with ... family photo albums. That's when I moved to digital, getting negatives scanned, burning CDs and using online archives ...

  5. Maureen,
    What part of the country do you live in? I can make arrangements for your media to be taken care of in that city and direct you to a location that has expertise in this area.

  6. I completely agree that today’s photos are getting lost in the digital world.

    Digital photography has turned photo sharing into virtual content that is put online or emailed to friends. It is the instant gratification.

    We have seen a trend with our customers coming to us at CanvasPop (http://www.canvaspop.com) to have digital photos enlarged on canvas. A real photo printed on canvas can become a family heirloom that can be cherished for generations to come.

  7. Interesting read about ritz camera. I had no idea that was going on. It is sad to see a company like that go down, but they simply seem archaic in todays world. They are way over priced, and cant compete with the larger internet ording businesses.

  8. Denver Portrait Photographer,
    Not sure where you have been comparing Ritz prices but they have the lowest price of any brick and mortar retailer. If you happen to stumble and get lucky in that another retailer has it for less Ritz will match the price. Their imaging services are even more competitive than others including the big "W"! I don't know where else you can go to get a photo book, tape to DVD transfer, enlargement mounted and laminated in one hour. They offer more options than anyone else. You might want to stop in and familiarize yourself with their services, prices and customer service. It's amazing at what they can do in a short period of time with any imaging service.

  9. It seems to me that around the world there must be millions (or many millions?) of images sat in computers that'll never see the light of day and I suspect many of them have probably never even been looked at by the person who downloaded them.
    Assuming I'm right, out of all of those lonely unwanted/uncared for/unknown/forgotten/I don't know that to do next with/etc images sat there waiting to see the light of day, logically there has to be a small percentage of really good ones.
    Out of these really good ones, again logically, there must be a smaller percentage of outstanding ones, and if so, again logically, from these there must be at least a few even better ones. Perhaps a few Cartier Bresson/Ansel Adams/Bill Brandt/Irving Penn/etc/etc type shots....but we'll never know.

  10. As soon as I read about MyPublisher.com in the Wall Street Journal several years ago, I started making photo books. My first efforts were with scanned photos from my many photo albums. I created life story books, which have become legacies for my children and grandchildren. When my husband died almost two years ago, I already had a life story book for his memorial service, along with a PowerPoint and a collage which was made into a memorial card for mailing. Now I create books for family events and special books for the grandchildren--who have taken the books to bed as bedtime stories, particularly the life story books of Grandmama and Grandpapa. I recently made life story books for their Mom and Dad. I must have over 20 photo books on my shelf, and family members can have their own copies.

  11. This may be an old thread but the concept is real. I've sold theatrical and dance photo DVDs in a venue where there is also being sold a video of the event. I have viewed these videos and the video of the event is never as good as your memory of the event. In reality when you see a picture of a part of any event, your mind creates the emotion and video is TOO real. Video shows what really happened and in most happy events is never as kind to the mind as the mind is when stimulated by a few images. Picture your daughter singing in a talent contest, but then see and hear it for real and you then remember it was out of tune, the kid in the corner of the stage picking his nose and the audience was noisy. Video, is reality, still images are memories. When it comes to family, use still images, when it comes to documentaries, use video.

  12. I have to agree with everyone in saying that photography has become so digitally disposable that there must be millions of photos out there that haven't been discovered. Everybody at my family gatherings (albeit small)is so eager to get pictures of everything, out of 20 people, there will be 10 digital cameras floating around and everyone needs to get a shot of everything at every moment, only to store the files away on their PCs and never see again.

    Photo albums should be brought back; they can make cherishable gifts to family members and a reminder that digital photography can capture a picture, but a physical photograph is something that can be treasured.

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