The Dark Side Of Modern Photography

I’ve long held the view that one of the worst aspects of modern photography is that it has made it very easy to never actually produce anything – anything physical that is. In the ‘good old days’ of film cameras you had no choice and,  whether you has access to a darkroom or you relied on a high street store to develop your photographs, at some point you would end up with a physical item. You really felt that you had created something.

The digital (r)evolution has changed everything. Images can be born, live and die without ever once seeing the light of day. Not that this is a wholly bad thing; for certain aspects of modern life such as social media, the speed and ease of an all-digital workflow is fantastic and not only allows us to keep our friends and loved ones up-to-date, but allows for individuals in oppressive regimes to get their story heard quickly and with less risk of censorship. So no, I’m not suggesting that ‘all-digital’ is necessarily a bad thing, but I do think that it is one that we will regret and here’s a case in point.

I was speaking to my parents recently who are in their eighties and in the process of clearing up a house full of a lifetime of gathered possessions, including thousands of photographs. Many, by their own admission, are not worth keeping, but the process of having to go through boxes of images has sent them down memory lane in a kind of retrospective of their own lives; things they had forgotten about have been remembered once again. And that’s the real power of a photograph: Photographs don’t have to be professionally taken, framed properly with the right light and capture a “wow” moment to be important photographs. They just have to move you. And everyone can take photographs that move them!

The problem I foresee is that, unlike paper which hasn’t fundamentally changed as a medium for a few hundred years, digital storage has. I remember using punched cards on computers, and floppy disks (remember them?) and my first hard disk used the ST506 interface. If you’re wondering what a ST506 interface is, then that has already proved them point I am trying to make as most technically adept friends of mine won’t have heard of it. Even if I still had the hard disk, and magnetic degradation had not rendered it unreadable, the chances of me finding anything that could read the data are close to zero. Twenty years from now we’re going to be saying the same thing about the current storage medium of choice, SSD. And the new kid on the block – cloud storage – is not a solution either. Even if the cloud service provider is still in business in 40 years time, will the digital format that the images are stored in be readable? What if the images are not yours, but a parent or relative unable to access the account? I’m not a betting man, but I can guarantee that paper will still be around. 

Photographers, whether they make their living from the art or pursue it as a passion, already know the importance of print. So today’s post is really for the two groups most “at risk”:

If you have no interest in photography, but just use your smart phone to capture your mates on holiday, your other half when they’re not looking or your kids at the zoo, buy a cheap printer (they’re only £30), print those images and 40 years from now they will bring those distant memories back in an instant. Will they be perfect photos? No. Will they be priceless? Absolutely!

If you have an interest in photography and are just starting out go buy a moderate inkjet and print your work. Holding your image in your hands will show more about composition – and the value of photography – than a screen ever can.


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  1. Pam Harris April 4, 2015 at 22:22 #

    How true. The point you make is so relevant and important. I have been thinking about this a lot but haven’t come up with the ideal solution yet. Possibly photobooks, but they impact on the budget quite a bit, for the quantity I would need. Still they would be a printed reminder of various holidays and adventures. My own little adventure library.

    • Dave April 7, 2015 at 20:14 #

      Photobooks are great things and remind me of the old photo albums that I’d spent ages with trying to get all the photographs straight. But, unlike the albums of old, you can’t change individual photos in a photobook without reprinting the whole thing.

      For someone like you – on a “grand journey” where there will be thousands of images one option would be to use a layout which is a combination of key images and contact sheet style (Google will show an image better than I can describe). So, those images that you love could have a page to themselves (or maybe two per page) and then for those that you want just to jog your memory (so don’t have to be large) could be 16 or 25 to a page.

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