Your digital photo album
In the last years I have encountered a very strange phenomenon that worries me, both as a photographer, but mainly as a researcher of human behaviour. Ok, maybe researcher of human behaviour is a bit of an overstatement, as usually I just snicker and make smart alek comments about that ridiculous game called human behaviour, but still, it is a phenomenon that should be acknowledged.
It seems, that with all this progress that has been engulfing us in the last decade, if one likes to call a flood of semi-useful glitzy icon-infested gadgets progress, there is a camera in everything we touch. Our computer? Has a built in camera. Our phone? Less than 8mb is not even funny, not to mention all the post production antique vintage hand printed apps that makes all iPhone users expert photographers. And our cameras? They can shoot HD video, and have a print resolution to cover whole skyscrapers.
And it is so easy not only to take great photos but also to share them with the world around us, with our friends and family, with our imaginary chums from social networks, with e-v-e-r-y-b-o-d-y, so many photos, parties, nights out, my old office, the dogs, the new house, what we eat (yes, my favourite photographic trend was the millions of plates posted on Facebook this year. for some reason, my personal trend of posting not only photos of what you are about to eat, but also images from the morning after showing what you ate for dinner last night didn't catch on).
But all that is not a phenomenon. Pixaca shmicasa, fecesbook or any other myspace yourspace thingie is old news, and the mindless voyeurism and need to share my insignificant life is entertaining, but that is SO last year's story.
No, the phenomenon is the basic fact that people are shooting ten times more pictures and no one actually has any pictures. What do I mean? As a portrait photographer, I always hand out DVDs with hi-res files of the images to my client. I also send them the smaller jpegs by email. I also post their photos on facebook so they can tag them and show off. All is very modern and oh so efficient. But, when they come to pick up the DVD I plead them to stop on the way home in a print shop and print a set of small post-card standard size prints of all the photos, or at least the ones they liked.
You see, with all due respect to that progress of yours, the simple fact is that if I ask my parents where were they born, they would pull out a dusty old photo album, with different size and colour photos glued on hard cardboard pages and covered with a thin plastic page protecting what remains of those fading glimpses of the family past. Three generations at least. These days? I dare you to find me that photo you took, you know what, let's not go far, two Christmases ago. I know, I know...its on the picasa or in your Facebook or something. If only you would remember the password from two years ago we could have enjoyed it now (don't laugh...you know it's true).
An old picture album. The kind that looks old, that smells old, that contains so much of your gene pool, you treat it almost as a holy book. And there is your mother, playing in the front yard, the uncle in diapers, grandmother sporting a hairstyle that funny enough is coming back in a retro retro retro look this season, grandfather sitting on the grass wearing a brown suit looking joyfully uncomfortable, and the whole image just reeks of history, flaunting all the stories that it covers in that one second of exposure.
How many pieces of your past have you lost because "they are on the old computer in the office" or on a lost notebook, a failed external drive, a DVD that is "somewhere"?
One of the most interesting, and touching efforts done after the hurricane in new Orleans, was to make public centers that collected all family photos that were found in the wreckage and allowing people to look for the visual memories they lost. As possessions go, these are the most significant ones, the ones people miss most.
I don't know which one of us will inherit the family albums, but I am sure I will be looking at them as an old man. At least I hope so.
And until I am an old man, I will keep on printing the photos I want to keep, the memories I want to bring with me as I move along this thing called life. And I advise you to do the same. And get one of those nice big bulky funny looking out-of-date old fashioned album. Your grandchildren will thank you.
Boaz Zippor is an artist, photographer and poet living in Bangkok.