I asked my Father today if he remembered life before television.  He said he did, and it was a world where a lot of people read books and newspapers, played games and got together with friends and a barrel of beer.

The reason I asked is because I realize that since the invention of TV, and people watching hours a day, we’ve now become a society that lives on screens.  I wake up to my iPhone and iPad.  I read the iPad with coffee, then off to a computer where I work editing photographs and marketing photography.

Or I have a photo shoot, and I make the photographs and check them on the camera’s screen.  Finally, import them to the computer for editing tomorrow.

I wrap up the day, and it’s back to the iPad.  Or I write at night, like this post here, on my laptop either at a pub or at home.

I’m not a TV watcher, but if I were, I would probably switch that on when I got done writing, and finish up the day with an iPad in bed.

What happened to us?  We live on screens.

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I think that’s why I’m drawn to film photography–I get to create with a simple ground glass for viewing the image (on a 4×5 or 8×10 view camera, a Rolleiflex or a Leica 35mm).  It has no electronics.  It’s physical, just light being focused onto film.

Same with hand-printing photographs in a darkroom, it’s hands on, and nothing electronic to it.

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I’m betting that’s why some people like gardening (I am not one of those people) but it gives them the chance to work with their hands and dirt to create something beautiful.  Can’t get more “down to earth” than that!

Same thing with nature lovers and landscape photographers (I am not one of those either).  Staring at the sky and trees is a welcome past-time in this digitally screened-in world.

Anyway, I wonder what all these screens, with living in a screen world, is doing to us, how it’s affecting our culture, our friendships, our lives.

Are we better off than 80 years ago, when all we needed were friends and a barrel of beer?kids1 (2)

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True story happened yesterday.

I met a young couple, mid-20s, and we were talking about film photography. I told them how they could get one roll of black and white film from Mike’s Camera and shoot one photo a month in an old Minolta SLR they had, and after three years they’d have a wonderful surprise waiting for them–all the photographs they forgot but the moments they got to relive.

ml-mom-car1That’s the power of film and removing the immediacy of the results. You have a chance to step away and come back to the moment later, it’s not all complete right now.

(To me, that’s what makes photography special, and why I still shoot film for portraits of family and friends, and what’s missing in today’s phone-snappy world.)

So, they said they wanted to do that, shoot some black and whites and print the photographs.

The couple said they were recently married, and they have exactly three photographs from the wedding, and a hard drive of all the photos, which they said has several hundred pics–too many and that they never look at. They wish they just had a photo album like their parents do.

How many wedding couples want “all the photos”? Why? What are you ever going to do with them? Get some prints, put them in an album, lay it on your coffee table. Done!

More is not better. Printed photographs can be shared without screens, and are more fun as real photographs, just like holding a book still has appeal in the days of e-readers.

Print your memories. Share your stories.

If you need help, have a hard drive of useless images and want some prints, let me know: FamilyPhotoAlbums.net

Here’s what one North Carolina photojournalist created by going back to one roll of black and white film.

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Trying something new–a way to talk photography daily. Some will be really short little thoughts, other longer ramblings on something photographic. Maybe some photo assignments, too.

Just launched: DailyPhotographyBlog.com and Subscribe to get it in your inbox.

Tune in, see what it becomes. Thanks for joining me, and here’s to great light!

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In the history of photography, now may be the most important time to be a photographer.  To document our world, our life, our family.

Because as a photographer, we are in a unique position.  For one thing, there’s a sense that there are more photographs being made now than ever.  That’s not true.  For one thing with more photographs being made, that means more photographs are being lost now than ever.

Think about the millions of people who lost family photographs today.  It’s true–it has to be millions, based on the number of lost phones full of photos and dead hard drives.

Those photos won’t be back. They’re just gone. And tomorrow it’ll happen to millions more.

That’s not our world. We are in a place that’s unique–we print our photos and that makes them last.  In a box under the bed or in a frame on the dresser, it doesn’t matter, they are real.  Physical photographs.

(And I would suggest that a photograph is a printed image, so if anyone is making images for a screen, they’re not even photographers, but something else–pixelographers.)

It’s difficult when you see a lot of something to imagine them being gone.  But where are the photos you made just 10 years ago?  Unless you printed them, they’re probably buried in some digital storage that’s not reachable.  That’s why what we are doing, and why we, are so important.

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Because 10 years turns to 20 years, then to 30 years.  And all these photographs are being lost. People aren’t doing the triple backup to offsite hard drives, it’s too time-consuming and difficult to do.  So, they’re doing nothing.  I have dozens of examples among my family and friends who don’t cloud backup, and haven’t unloaded to a hard drives because they don’t know how to.

You and I are the ones who are saving the family photographs.  One print at a time, we’re creating something that has the ability to last.

We may be long gone, and the future generations may never know it was us and our dedication that made these photographs, but ours will be the only photographs they see.

Our photographs are the only ones they will know us by.

So make up some good ones.  Our great-grandchildren will thank us.

Anyone who wants help, I can get your photographs printed for you.  Check out FamilyPhotoAlbums.net.

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Photography is at a low point in its history. And it makes me sad. But first a little photography history lesson to see how we got here. (And hope for how we change it for the better.)

We’ve been at this photography thing for just about 193 years–the first photograph was made in 1826.  And while it had a slow start, it grew rapidly when Kodak introduced the pocket camera and the Brownie 75 years in around 1900.

And then it had tremendous growth in the first part of the 20th century.  Films got more sensitive to light, cameras got more portable and we were happily shooting holidays and vacations, often on the same roll of film.

You can see some of these photographs gathered.  They get published regularly on Old School Cool and The Way We Were.  Photos like this.

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Time marched on.  We got through the 1950s with the great rangefinder cameras like the Leicas and Yashicas. The 60s with the 126 Instamatics and 110 pocket cameras.

Then came the SLR, with the big Nikons and Canons among other interchangeable film cameras taking the family photos.  The amazing Canon AE-1 in the 1970s, advertised as the simplest camera you can own.  You or your parents may have had one.  They sold in the millions.

All along photographs were printed, dropped into photo albums or left in the envelope they came to us from the processor.  Stored in shoe boxes,  some hung on the walls of our homes along the staircase, each of our siblings taking a place in frames in a diagonal orientation.

Then the 80s and the point and shoots, the disc camera, the APS cameras and finally around 2000 the advent of digital cameras.

And then digital was in full swing, with the small point and shoots, 1.3 megapixel to start.  Gradually, they’ve grown to 50mp as DSLRS and APS-C bodies, then mirrorless and there’s nothing we can’t shoot with them. Some of the latest bodies even shoot over 60 photo frames per second.

And that’s precisely the problem.  We can do too much.  We can shoot too much.  And we do.  Then there’s the phone where we snap away at everything in front of us all day long because we can.

The quantity is the problem.  The quantity of photographs is the problem.  We’ve never been inundated with so many pictures like we are today.  It’s constant, it’s everywhere we go, at all times–concerts, theater shows, parties, dinners.  We can’t put the phone down.  The pictures just keep coming.

And then what?  Nothing.  No one goes back to them to look at them.  Sure, maybe we show one photo to someone, but what about the 60 per second, the dozens we shot today on the phone?  No one sees them

No one will ever see them.  Because no one cares.  Even we don’t care.  We shoot them because we can.  Because we think that’s what we do now.  We’ve been told that’s the way it is.

And that photo of our family like the one above from 70 years ago?  Never gets made, because who goes to a photographer anymore for a family photograph?  No one.  We have our phones.  We can shoot selfies.

That photo above doesn’t get made, period.  We will have made millions and billions of pictures, and none of that quality will last.  Because no one cares.

The young generation, they don’t care.  They don’t have photo albums.  They don’t care about photos for the future.

They have their phone now.  That’s it.

When it gets replaced, the photos are gone.  So what.

When it gets lost, the photos are gone.  So what.

When we take them, we don’t even care about them.  Nowhere is there a family sitting around their phones or computers looking at photos of Grandma.  There’s no one doing that.

Photographs don’t exist in present day.  Pictures depicting people and things exist temporarily until we forget and can’t be bothered to offload them and edit them down.  “What?  10,000 photos–I’ll just save them all.  Who has time to look through them all?”

We are in a dark time photographically.  We don’t value photography.  We don’t hire portrait photographers to document our families.  We don’t have photographs of our families and friends in our home.  We don’t live with photographs.

We live with our phone. The phone with thousands of photos we have no interest in sorting through, or looking at.

Ev-er.

How did we get here?  We were doing so well.

We got here because quantity is a good thing and a curse.  The fact that you can make thousands of photos a week doesn’t mean it’s best to make them.

We are in a photographic dark age.  The photos we are making now mean less than ever.  We will never see them, our children and grandchildren will never see them.

We may as well stop making them–it’s all pointless.  Unless we print a book of photos or make up an album of snaps at the end of the year, the photos are like vapor–here now and good for nothing tomorrow.  Because they’re gone.

No one cares. Too busy snapping.

Wouldn’t that time be better spent experiencing the thing we act like we’re photographing, since really we are doing nothing? While we are always on the phone and making the constant snaps, how much do we miss out on?

Technology has advanced so quickly, that we are at a low point in history photographically. And we need to change our culture and get to a place where we value photography again. And document who we are. And photograph our families and have professional photographs made. Value what we once had and now is lost.

We do it by printing one photo. Or having one professional family portrait made and putting it in a frame in our house.

We do it by putting a picture of grandma in a frame on our dresser. Portraits of the kids back in frames on the wall.

Print anything you want to last. It’s the only reason we can see those marvelous faces in the old photos–because they exist as photographs.

Not as digital files. Not buried in heaps of data and information, but a real photograph that we see as we cross the room–they’re here with us.

It’s what a photograph is. A printed picture.

If I get just one person to print a photograph by discussing this, that’s one great-grandchild that will get to see a photo from today that wouldn’t otherwise exist for them.

That’s why I press this issue. That’s who I’m writing this for, on their behalf.

I want us to change the culture to value photographs again. To preserve our family history in pictures. Real pictures. Real photographs.

As Seth Godin says, “People like us do things like this.” We value photography and family portraits as an important part of our history.

If you’re a person like me who values family history, join me and print a photograph. Print ten this year. Print a photo book of favorite snapshots. Just make something that will last for generations.

The great-grandchildren will be glad we did.

[As always, if you need help printing photographs, I am a professional who can help with prints and books. And I make family portraits–it’s the most important work I do. ~Kenneth]

You can share this post with this link: FamilyPhotoAlbums.net

 

 

The photographers of days gone past, they used view cameras, those lovely wood 4×5 and 8×10 cameras, which gave them the ability to keep their verticals straight.  Not tilted.  Not leaning.

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Basically, if the film plane is parallel to the building, the vertical will stand straight.  But if you tilt the film up, like when you tilt up a 35mm film camera, or a digital SLR or phone, the film plane/sensor isn’t parallel to the buildings, so the tops of the buildings will converge.

That’s why there is that angled brass piece on the back of the camera above–you can tilt the camera up, then reset the back to parallel.

Look at these photos.  See how all the verticals are, well, vertical?  These were made for the FSA–Farm Security Administration, and they often used large view cameras.

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Same with this one.  (This is from the wonderful Shorpy.com web site that I highly recommend.  Click the photos on the Shorpy site to make them load large so you can zoom in on details.)

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You don’t see straight verticals in photographs by cameras without perspective control.  But these were made with view cameras that you could control perspective.

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Those are a far cry from photos made today, with their tilted verticals.

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It’s a look we’re used to seeing, but it’s not accurate to the way they are really, and to me, it’s a sloppy representation of the town/building. It’s a record shot, but not much of a photograph.

There’s a time and place for quick and easy and convenient.  But speed and easy aren’t always the best way to document a location well.  And until you see the difference, you might not even know what you’re missing.

If you want to get straight verticals in your photographs, make sure you keep the back of the camera parallel to the subject, even if you have to lower it down or up to make that happen.

I have a difficult time making photographs sometimes. It’s because I know what I want a photograph to do, how I want it to look composition-ally, or story-wise, or just the right light. And when those don’t come together in some combination, I don’t fire the shutter.

It just sits, idle, waiting.

I’m reading a book about the beauty of everything, and I believe what it is saying–that there is inherent beauty in everything. Not just the things we’ve been told are beautiful. Things that have been drilled into us–“This here is beautiful.”

But how do you un-see and how do you un-know what you do see and do know?

If I look at a Walker Evans photograph, like this one, Negroes’ Church, South Carolina, 1936″, he didn’t wait for the light to be early in the day or late in the evening. Or people to be entering or exiting.  He was documenting the church when he was passing it. The very act of him photographing it creates the picture’s importance, and why we’re still looking at it 80+ years later.

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Negroes’ Church, South Carolina, 1936

There’s beauty in the act of framing the photograph.  And there’s beauty in the ordinary, the mundane, the regular stuff.

I went on a photo walk recently with a photographer friend to a rural town heading east called Platteville, and we each brought old film cameras.  I was shooting a Mamiya C330S with a wide-angle 55mm lens and Kodak Ektar film (expired 2011, shot at box speed).  The very act of shooting it made me look for subjects to shoot, and so I was able to find them.

There is something to putting the frame up and seeking a photograph.  There is something to being on a time frame–the photo walk starts now and goes til dusk when we’ll stop and then get a beer.

Structure, deadlines, they make things happen.  If I weren’t on the lookout for these images, I wouldn’t have seen them and wouldn’t have stopped to make them.

It’s an incredibly important part of the creative process–to show up.  To schedule time for the muse to join us and work to create.

And in a world where technology seems to value the quick and instant ability to share phone snaps, there was a real specialness to shooting these 12 frames, and then sending the film off to be processed and waiting for the results.  Having the thrill of seeing the photographs once they were finished and I had stepped away from them.

To see them with fresh eyes.

To have had time to play with color. To seek out compositions. As a photographer who often gets asked what’s the best way to learn to make photographs, I say, go out and make photographs.  Work to create pictures in a set time frame and you and the muse, play.

Photography is a wonderful art. It allows us to stop time so we can revisit it later.  To go back to that Negros’ church in 1936.  To visit Platteville in 2019.  And to document our lives and the lives of our families and friends so that we will always be able to go back and savor those times.

But we’re not limited to these images.  We can photograph small details.  Little things that we think of when we think of someone.  The way they hang their coat on a chair.  The indentation on their pillow after they get up in the morning.

We just have to see that there’s beauty surrounding us.  And not to wait for the only moments we’ve been conditioned to see.