Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Take a Picture It'll Last Longer

Are you over 25? If so, close your eyes and try to recall pictures from your childhood and youth.

Baby pictures of yourself. Pictures from elementary school, or from high school. Pictures of beloved family members. Pictures of family members who weren’t all that beloved. Funny pictures. Embarrassing pictures. Can you see them in your mind?

If you’re like me, if you have the chance to concentrate, you can remember dozens of pictures in impressive detail. You might even have a sense of which photo album the picture is in, and then you can begin to imagine flipping through the pages, remembering other pictures on the pages fore and aft.

I spent hours of my teenage years and young 20s assembling a handful of photo albums, For someone who wasn’t all that popular, whose life wasn’t all that interesting, I probably had an unhealthy obsession with capturing photos of my life. I honestly think I was horrified at the thought of forgetting my own life. The friends who kept me smiling. The girls who were friends but on whom I secretly crushed. Sometimes randomly-captured moments that I hoped would help me remember what otherwise might fade away from the eternal onslaught of new information.

In the years -- decades -- since, I have gone back time after time to enjoy those albums. The last photo album we own is from 2003. One daughter is still in diapers, and the other is barely out of them. My son does not exist in a physical photo album.

Who even looks at albums anymore, dozens of pictures compiled carefully into a book-like creation?

The smartphone and its now-ubiquitous HD camera, combined with social media, has become an omnipresent photo album, with video capability to boot. It’s arguably the most unsung but significant cultural revolution of my lifetime, because it has begun to change what we would run back into the house for in case of a fire. At present and forever in the past, photos were, for most people, the one irreplaceable possession (other than human beings). Now we don’t worry about fires destroying our memories.

We worry about computer memories failing, wiping our pictures out, and thus destroying our memories as well.

Now, close your eyes, and recall some pictures from three or four years ago. Are they clear in your head? As clear as those photos, printed on Kodak paper, sheathed in transparent goodness, from another era of your life? If you can recall them as well, how long would it take you to find them? Do you know where they are? If you’re like me, you can’t remember as many pictures as clearly and specifically, nor would you know exactly where to start looking.

Since January of this year -- little more than a scant eight months -- my family has added over 2,600 photos to our iPhoto album.


I have two selfie-obsessed, smartphone-owning teenage daughters. Add to that my wife’s occasional shots and my love of Instagram and shutterbugging, and the number of pics obviously explodes.

If you’re old enough, you remember when talk of photos meant talk of “rolls of 24” (usually), and talk of 100, 200 or 400 “film.” These phrases are so nonsensical and obsolete now that I laughed as I wrote them. Photographic film is the “taxi” of 2005.

The roll of 24 would run you $3 or so. Getting that roll developed usually ran $6-10 for standard prints. As a teenager, this meant every roll of film cost me a good meal, or half a dozen comic books, or a new album/CD/cassette. I took every roll, every picture, seriously, because I could feel it costing me money when I took it.

We won’t know for sure what this has done to us for another decade or two. And whether it’s all for the better doesn’t matter, because it’s all for the convenience.

What’s a picture worth now?

1 comment:

troutking said...

Good post. Too tired to write more, but I'm thinking about it.