I guess the first reason why I constantly bang on about having printed photos is out of purely selfish reasons. Due to circumstances I’ll not bore you with here, I’m lucky if there are a handful of printed photos that exist of me as a small child. Those that do are stuffed in a carrier bag along with the few other photographs that exist of my maternal grandmother and my parents when they were young. Some still sit sadly in the paper wallets they came from the developers in, if you are really lucky some still have the negatives in those wallets. The unlucky ones are loose, have the odd tea stain on where they have been used as coaster or worse yet dog-eared or torn from when my little brother and I used to get our grubby hands on them!
I have never seen a picture of my mother in her wedding dress or as a young girl, with her sister. I have seen one picture of my paternal grandfather and none of my grandparents as youngsters themselves. As for further back in the maternal family tree – forget it! I’ve had a little bit more luck on the paternal side thanks to a kindly Aunt who reconnected with me and shared some photocopies of old photographs.
Now you might say, “quit bleating – there are more things to worry about in the world today”, or “get over yourself”! Both of which would be fair. Not having these photographs hasn’t ruined my life or made me any less responsible for the direction my life has travelled. I just feel a little bit sad that I can’t see those family memories and find a connection with my past.
Digital – isn’t worth the paper it’s not printed on!
Of course, the world is different now and technology has evolved dramatically since I was a snotty-nosed kid. Now you can’t move for people capturing memories (selfie sticks – anyone??). A child born today is likely to have hundreds of pictures taken of them on various smartphones before they even leave the delivery ward (not to mention 3d images whilst in the womb).
We no longer flick through photo albums of a physical kind but rather scroll through a screen or look at an Instagram feed. This has its upsides and I am all about embracing technology. I love that I can carry over 2000 images around in my pocket at all times. But how many times have I heard people, (especially parents), sigh as they scroll through their images and say “I must get some of these printed”?
There is a wider issue as well with digitally stored images. They won’t last. Now I’m not suggesting that you want to preserve your last insta-worthy coffee or holiday hot-dog legs photos for long, but preserving history is important as is creating a legacy for your children and their children.
For photographers with an archive brimming with slides, contact sheets, negatives and prints, the future of that work looks bright. Basic defenses against the corrosive agents of time, a dollop of good fortune and those photos have an excellent chance of surviving for potentially a hundred years or more.
Digital photographs? Not so much.
“We’re living in an unprecedented time,” says Henry Wilhelm, co-founder of Wilhelm Imaging Research and a photo permanence expert. For all of human history, we’ve created “human-readable” records—like your archive of printed photos—that require nothing more than a working set of eyes to be accessed and understood. Now we are in an age of “machine readable” records. In such an age, it’s a question of whether future software and devices will be able to able to access, read and display the bits of digital information that represent your images. As anyone who’s held an 8-inch floppy disk knows, that’s no sure thing (not sure what that is, ask your dad, and get your mind out of the gutter)!
Printed Photos – Beautiful and Practical
This is a long-winded way of saying, the photos that mean something to you – get them printed! Hang them on a wall, put them in a beautiful album or photo-book. None of these options are expensive, places like PhotoBox offer prints and photo books at very reasonable prices. Create beautiful memories for generations to come. Come on, what are you waiting for?