Two years ago this March, my father-in-law passed away. He was a man that I greatly admired. He reminded me of my own father—a man who packed up his life and moved his entire family to another country. Several nights before his funeral, I sat with my in-laws and went over the mountains of pictures that were stored in a lot of albums all over his house. My father-in-law was an avid amateur photographer when he was a young man. There were selfies taken with timing devices, pictures of the children and grandchildren at special events goofing around, pictures of places visited and adventures lived. All contained in precious little pieces of paper.
As the night progressed, my in-laws began accumulating small piles of pictures around themselves. Some images were for the memorial service, and some were pictures that they wanted to keep for themselves. Real and tangible artifacts of a life well lived. They also served as emotional triggers for memories stored away and long forgotten. Memories that made you realize that the images that you are looking at are mere representations. That it pales next to the memory of actually LIVING that time. Of BEING in that moment.
Which made me think of my own mortality. In the future, will my smart device be passed around for my relatives to look at and wonder about all the images I’ve created, all the things I’ve seen, all the events I’ve witnessed, and all the adventures I’ve been in? At one point, my current device had over 1,000 images that were never backed up to either the cloud or my computer. Not one of them were ever printed. Although not particularly large, my backups contain over 3 terabytes of sketches, illustrations and photographs. Again, none have been printed. We live in an age where everything is being digitized. Everything from books to movies, music, and images are consumed or viewed on a digital device of some sort. There are cries to digitize everything. Have you ever stopped to wonder why? Is that even a good idea when you consider some old stone tablets, papyrus manuscripts and books have lasted for centuries? I have a twenty-five year old SyQuest disk but no SyQuest drive to read the data on that disk. Even if I did have the drive unit, I can’t simply plug it into my current desktop computer. When the technology industry moves on to the latest storage device and connection technology, how many of us will take the time to migrate all of our precious data to the new standard? After one passes away and no one pays the company that hosts all your precious memories in the cloud, will they just disappear?
A print, on the other hand, doesn’t disappear. A print is the best substitute we have of time that’s long passed into memory—a slice of time that we can never get back. An old photograph possesses magic that enthrals people. Even if you don’t know who the subject is, you are often left to wonder what the subject was like, what deemed the moment important enough for a photograph, and what they were thinking at the exact moment the shutter button was pressed. I observed all this that night as my in-laws carefully peeled back the brittle, yellowed plastic cover of the photo album page to retrieve the paper treasure underneath. After staring at the image for a few moments, they then passed it around with a knowing smile and a “…remember when…?”
Who will remember the moments that are stuck in digital limbo? More importantly, are you missing out on the magic of being in the moment with family and friends by fiddling around with your digital camera?