We are at a unique time in the history of photography. The ability to capture an image, stop time and record it as it was has only been a part of human history since 1839, 181 years, which really isn’t all that long of a time period considering the ages that humans have been on the earth with no recording medium. Cave walls and their petroglyphs and other drawings are all we were able to do before photography was invented.
Those cave walls and petroglyphs still exist. As do millions of photographs from the 1800s and 1900s. I just found some wonderful photos of my Father from when he was in the army in 1956, photos that only exist because they are physical and able to be stored and kept for the last 64 years.
Simpler times. Simpler photography. Many photo labs joked that one roll of film often contained: “Snow, Sand, Snow,” meaning one roll of film lasted through Christmas, summer vacation and then the next Christmas.
Snapshots used to be made and saved. Looked at and tucked away. And forgotten so that 64 years later I could once again stumble upon them.
I suggest that we are in a time of a Social Dilemma, which is both the name of a Netflix movie about social media and the corporations who make us into their product, and also a situation where everyone at a cafe is on their phone instead of talking to each other.
The ‘camera’ device which also happens to have a phone takes all our attention, and won’t let it go. It has a strangle-hold on us. We can’t stop ourselves from checking just once more. “Look the light turned red, time for a quick check of Facebook.”
This is a very different type of photography. Yes, the device can capture light into an image and instantly send it around the world. That doesn’t help those folks’ grandchildren see those photographs 64 years from now, in 2084, since I bet those photos will be long lost and forgotten.
I challenge anyone to find a photo they made just ten years ago, in 2010. Not to mention any they made when digital photography started in the early 2000s. I’m a professional photographer and even I can’t find photographs made then.
Unless they’re printed. All the printed photos, all the photo books, all the framed photographs, I know where they are. I’m looking at them, they’re on my walls or my bookshelves. Or friends’ refrigerators or bureaus. These photographs, and only these photographs, will be passed down through generations and last until 2084.
The problem of digital photography today is it’s too easy to go out for an evening and shoot 750 files. Yes, files, that’s really what they are unless you finish them by printing them. It’s no different from the negatives Vivian Maier made in the mid-20th century that were discovered in 2009 and revealed her as an amazing photographer who was unknown in her lifetime.
She didn’t develop much of her film. She never saw the final results. In some sense, if no one had found and saved and developed her film, we would never know the treasure she was as a street documentary photographer.
Her negatives are similar to the files of today that someone shot, those 750 files, that no one is ever going to pull out of their computer and print, so the images are essentially lost. They, too, were never developed. They could be of someone’s father standing next to an Indian statue today, and no one will see them in 2084.
I propose a New Photography Order. Wajda’s Photographic Manifesto.
- I will document my family and my world with photographs, shooting with the express intent to make them available to future generations. I’m working for the children of the future, not the corporations that benefit by me contributing to their platform.
- I will print some quantity of photographs a month that I determine, whether to be framed and displayed or put into photo albums, and make an annual photo book of photographs, so that they may last in a tangible form.
- I will work with gear not limited to a phone camera. There are situations where the limitations of the phone camera make for poor photographs. Wide angle lenses make for a poor choice for portraits. Small cameras and SLRs offer choices in lenses for varying situations.
- I will shoot on film if I choose to make negatives and prints and even hand-print my own work. The use of film guarantees that there will be some lasting negatives and photographs for those future generations. It may be slower, but I choose to use what’s best, not just what’s quickest.
- I will present my work on walls, not screens. I will not limit my photographs to a small 4″ device display, with viewers zooming in to see the details. I will present my work at the size I want it viewed.
- I am a photographer, not a ‘like’ generator. I make photographs not to stroke my ego, that someone who I may not even know validates me, but to document and share life’s moments.
- I will make my art, my vision, my way, not at the direction of the popularity with the masses. I won’t let the “influencers” tell me what to make, since I am not working to be in their popularity circle.
- My sharing will be in-person by gifting photographs and having friends and family encounter photographs in my space, which will encourage social interaction and connection.
- I will make photography an important part of my family’s life, creating photographs of family members and displaying them in my home to show them how much they mean to me, enough to want to live with their photograph in my world, not buried in a computer that no one ever sees.
- I will not be a filer, spraying and praying and loading thousands of files onto multiple hard drives, costly cloud services, just because that’s the current trend, but a photographer committed to making photographs that will still be here decades from now.
Will you sign on? Make the commitment? Will you choose to take on the assignment that your great-granddaughter so dearly hopes that you will, so that she will perhaps see you against your “Indian statue” many years from now?
Or about to shave 63 years ago?
It’s a totally different approach to why we make photographs. And what it means to be a photographer today. A real photographer making photographs, not a filer, filing away into the dustbin of time.
(It’s why I write and share thoughts, to change the culture, to put value to photography, not to generate likes. I genuinely don’t care about likes, not because people don’t matter, but because it’s not my motivation for making a post. Thanks for reading. I hope you’ll join me.)