I have a dilemma. I went to friends’ family gathering celebrating their grandson turning one. The big “one”!
They are a beautiful family and I looked forward to going and of course brought a camera. That’s always the big decision: Do I take a film camera, a Leica M5 with a 50mm f1.4 Summilux or a Nikon F3HP with a manual focus 50mm f1.2, each loaded with Ilford HP5 black and white film, or a digital SLR–a Nikon D610 with a 50mm f1.4 AF? I figured I’d need a fast aperture and auto focus for photographing the toddler who probably moves quickly, so ended up taking the digital camera.
The problem with digital photography is, while it gives great images, you have no negatives to print. So, I’m left with photos on the desktop, in Lightroom, nine images edited, toned, and framed on my desktop, ready to export.
But what do I do with them? Export for what? Web? Print? Where are they going?
Everything I was photographing, they were, too, with their phones. There were multiple family members firing off frames with their cellphones whenever I saw a special moment. They probably shared them all in real time. Or maybe not. Maybe they just buried them further in their phone photo app, not sure when they’ll see them again. And maybe to them it doesn’t matter.
Why do they need to see mine? They were there and already have pictures.
“Hey, here are some photos from the birthday party. I made them black and white because I want you to see something different than what you already made with your phone. I even put a rough-edged frame around them–I like a frame around my work.”
“Yeah, great, Ken. Really nice. We made some too–ours are in color. We sent them to everyone already, that same day.”
Photography used to be something you would use to show your friends something when you got back from a trip or adventure. But now that we share everything in real time, there’s no need to show anything to anyone once we’re home. My partner, MaryLee, couldn’t make the party, so I did show her the nine photos on my desktop. She looked at them for a minute, said, “Nice.”
I guess that’s all they’re for. “Nice.”
Photography’s purpose has changed. It’s gone from a storyteller’s, “Let me show you what I found in my travels,” and “Let me make a collection of photos in this album that we can all peruse together come the holidays,” to a real-time, “Hey, look at me now. See me? I’m here.”
Photography isn’t about “then”, it’s about “now”–“I don’t want to look at them later–I’m not thinking about family history, that’s the old way. I also have no interest in prints for my home, Just see me now!”
As soon as you check Facebook and Instagram, those same photos are there, too. They’ve also hit Twitter. They’re on Instagram Reels, they’re published on Facebook Stories.
They’re reruns–you’ve already seen them. Everyone has because they’re everywhere, posted by everyone at the party. “Nothing more to see here–move along!” This story is getting old and repetitive–“Geez, I’ve seen this so many times, is the kid still one?”
So, here I am a couple days after the birthday party, with photos of a small cake that the birthday boy got to dig his hands into and eat his sweet treat. What do I do with them? They all were there, they took phone photos. They’re not going to look at mine and see anything they missed.
My choices are:
- EMAIL THE PHOTOS NOW: Send them in an email now. Wait for the “Thank you” email back.
- MAKE AN ONLINE GALLERY: Send them a link to the photos in a web gallery, so they can have a link to share them with other people. “What other people that didn’t already see photos?“
- GIFT A 4×6 ALBUM OF NINE PHOTOS SOON: Print them and put them in small album that holds 4×6 photos and gift the album to them in a week, once the prints are ready, promising to keep filling the album up with more prints as time goes on.
- GIFT ONE FRAMED 5×7 PRINT SOON: Print one 5×7 photo, probably the one of the birthday cake, put it in a frame and gift it to them in the next couple weeks when I see them next to add to the collection they have of several other framed family moments in their home. Also, print some additional 5x7s and hide them in the frame unannounced behind the birthday cake photo for them to find someday–a favorite trick of mine.
- GIFT A 4×6 ALBUM OF NINE PHOTOS IN A YEAR: Print them and put them in small album that holds 4×6 photos and gift that to them, but wait a year, once they’ve forgotten about the day to take them back. And an album will give them something to hold physically in their hands, and have for the 2-year-old to flip through and see himself as a toddler at one.
- GIFT ONE FRAMED 5×7 PRINT IN A YEAR: Print one 5×7 photo, probably the one of the birthday cake, put it in a frame and give it to them but wait a year, and they can add it to the collection they have of several other framed family moments in their home. Also, print some additional 5x7s and hide them in the frame unannounced behind the birthday cake photo for them to find someday–a favorite trick of mine.
- DO NOTHING: Don’t bother. No one cares. Enjoy them yourself. Photography is no longer used to relive anything. It’s to show where we are now. The family sent texts with photos to their friends that day. No one wants to see any more. The moment is over. Photography doesn’t work like it used to. They really don’t even need you to bring a camera anymore. They’ve got it covered.
Even if my photos are good, does anyone care? Certainly since I’m a pro, they’re better than their phone photos, right? Are they? Does it matter? Really, who wants my photos?
The way I see it, the phone and instant messaging have made it so that photography doesn’t work anymore, certainly not the way it used to. Once you change to real-time delivery, it changes from anticipation of albums of memories to peruse and relive, to glances and swipes now and then everyone’s done with them. “Yeah, I already saw them, nice.” The moment’s over.
I miss photography when the moment was photographed, the wonder was there of, “How will it turn out?” What will it look like? And when can we see them once they’re processed?
I miss photography as a memory keeper instead of a present moment sharing experience. Maybe because everyone has a phone up, everyone is making images, there’re so many of them, there’s really no need to see each others’. Everyone is shooting identical photos. We all have it. “Got it covered, Ken.”
Soooooo many photographs isn’t a win. Not for me. It’s just too much. It’s made photography feel irrelevant now. Overwhelming. Unimportant.
The 70s street photographer Garry Winogrand famously said he photographed things to see what they looked like photographed. I don’t think he would be happy with real-time reviewing. The process…well, there is no process. It’s over as soon as you get started.
After all this, I still have these nine photographs I don’t know what to do with.
I know. Perhaps I print them and save them for 20 years, then give them to them. By then all their phone photos will be lost and I can gift them these actual photographs that take them back. You’ve heard me say it before, time makes photos more valuable. I just have to add time to the equation. There, that’s it! There’s still a point to making these photographs.
Hold onto the photos. There’s a gift that will be waiting for them someday.