Photographs Lost: Buried in the Sand by the Digital Undertow

Posted: April 18, 2017 in black and white, black and white film, family, film, photo, photographer, photographs, photography, portraits, portraiture, the wise photo project
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More people are experiencing the glut of photography. It’s everywhere, it’s instant, it’s disposable, and that’s exactly where it goes–away.

CHILDHOOD MEMORIES
I remember when I was a kid, we had professional portraits made every year, and our family would make family portraits that would line the wall alongside the staircase.

And all my friends, too, there were portraits of each of them and their family members up on the walls. What happened that we don’t value family portraits like that anymore?

SAD TALES OF LOSS
I’ve personally heard several examples in the last few months of people telling me they wished they had photographs that were better than the phone snaps they have of their kid when they were two. Or five or seven. Or in one case, of their grandma when she was 95.

At a recent conference, a manager for a major corporation told me that he didn’t know why they stopped doing family photos, they just haven’t for years.

A couple I was chatting with at a pub told me that in hindsight, they should have printed some of the better photos that they can’t find anymore.

And one person I met while documenting life out on the street said they wished they hadn’t thrown away all their parents slides after they digitized them, because now the disc won’t load and they’re taking it to a computer tech to try to retrieve the images.

The wonderful thing about the phone is you can shoot a million photos.
The terrible thing about the phone is you can shoot a million photos.

A PHOTOGRAPHIC DARK AGE
And those photos are disappearing. Far away.   Into some distant folder buried on some hard drive that people think they are saving them, but have no idea where they go.   Unedited photos that no one wants to go through. There are just too many!

Find me a photo of your grandparent or kid from just five years ago. Good luck.

I find this to be a sad time for photography, because many families are overindulging in low-quality snapshots, and only that. They are being led into a false sense that they’ve got their memories saved, and well-preserved, and that they have quality images.

They really don’t, and they’re not.

I PREFER MY FAMILY DARK AND BLURRY
I see lots of photos that get ‘likes’ on social media. Often they’re poor, blurry, dark, not a keeper in any sense of the word. But there are the likes. Lots of them.  And always the comment, “Great picture of you.” Really, you like to see them dark and out of focus?

It’s like the difference between cheap junk furniture from Wal-Mart versus fine furniture from an artisan woodworker–the photographs we’re choosing are cheap and not very good.   Functional, but low quality.

Many people who saved their photos to CDs or tapes over the last 20 years have had some amount of loss–either some discs won’t load anymore or the tapes don’t play, or they play with degradation through the images.  It’s threatening to become a real digital dark age.

PUTTING IT OFF
I know people who talk about wanting to get portraits made of their kids at every year, then figure they can wait a little bit, then the kid turns four, seven, ten, and then they realize they haven’t made any good portraits of them. I’m seeing this in my business, as people put off scheduling the sessions they used to book. Or if they do, they don’t even want prints, just the digital files.

I’ve actually had clients who’ve scheduled a portrait session, with prints included in the session fee, and they’ve never ordered them. They don’t see the point of a real photograph. I’ve sent them reminders that a print order comes with their photo session. But there’s no response. Nothing. Zero interest.

They see no value in the actual real, physical photographs.

And in five or ten or twenty years–some time in the very near future–those photos, even though they were made by me, a professional, will cease to exist as they get lost in the tidal wave of images. And buried in the sand by the digital undertow with all the rest.

I don’t see how they are ever going to make up for them. In fact, I know the answer. They’re not.

GIMME ALL THE FILES, JUST THE FILES
There are plenty of people who’ve picked up a digital SLR in the past few years and call themselves a photographer, who will shoot your family by a tree for very little money, and give you all the files.  They have no interest in photography as an art medium with a final product–an actual photograph–but only to shoot their camera and get paid for pushing the button.  You could print their photo dark with lines across the faces with an inkjet printer and they couldn’t care less.

The more I discuss this situation, the more I get people nodding in agreement. They concur too many photos is a problem. They say they know the quality is lower than they’d like.  And they admit to having lost a phone and thousands of pictures or knowing someone who has. But do they do anything and book a session?

No, they don’t. Because that I-have-a-phone-I-can-do-it-myself mentality persists.

AMERICA THE (LOOK) RICH
America looks rich, but isn’t. It just looks it. We think we have the best, but we buy the worst as long as it looks okay. That patio set in our backyard from Target, that’ll last a year or two then we’ll throw it away. Everything is disposable. Nothing is built to last. But it’s nice and cheap, and looks good for a little while.

There was a recent article in the Boston Globe where someone asked regarding school photographs, “Why does Picture Day still exist?”   That’s the mentality–that we have our phones and our snaps and they’re good enough.

Maybe I’m nostalgic, but I thought there was something to my folks ordering and framing photographs of us as we were growing up. I liked the way we each had something to remind us we were all vital parts of this family.

WHAT, ME DRESS UP?  ARE YOU KIDDING?
Now, to get people together for a family photograph, to suggest they come in for a formal studio portrait, I’ve had people tell me they can’t be bothered to dress up. They have some from the park they made themselves, and don’t really care about getting them done formally anymore.

I’m a film photographer who shoots legacy photographs on real film and I print photographs on real paper for framing and displaying in a home or other physical space.

I don’t understand the unwillingness to spend to photograph our families well.   Future generations are counting on it, and they will be surely disappointed by the lost pictures and bad snapshots.

Someone must still value the best in quality.  Someone who isn’t put off by the idea of dressing up.

YOUR FAMILY ARE ROCK STARS
If you’re a rock star or movie actor, and you’re being photographed by a professional photographer for a magazine spread, you don’t complain that you can’t wear your sneakers and t-shirt. You want to look your best.  You go to be your best. You dress up and feel your best. You’re a rock star, after all. Everyone knows the performer’s creed: “Look better than the rest of them!”

That’s my goal, to find those that see their families as worth the extra expense for a high-end studio, formal portrait that they will hang in their home, because they see their family as worth it. And that see me as the one photographer, an truly experienced professional, working in a special, unique way–not just another guy with a digital spray and pray camera, but with real film and quality lighting in an actual studio–that will actually preserve that memory and will truly capture them as they are.

With artistry.  And quality as the determining factor, not the cheapest price point as the basis for their decision.

The rest will have to hope to salvage that phone snap for a very long time.

 

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