Photographs Need To Know Their Time and Place

I grew up during a stretch of time when the family photos evolved from black and white to those of color. Other than negatives, the prints were the only source of recorded history. Despite the quality – from white spots to grainy to closed eyes to wear and tear – I’m sure we can all agree, due to the cost and effort to produce these old photos, an effort was required to protect them by placing them in an album, behind cellophane. This, compared to the simplicity of today’s photography, where you can fire at will, one shot after another, until you have the one take that’s satisfying to the photographer and/or the photo’s subject(s), and still save every last one to a flash drive.

Like most families from my generation, there’s a bookcase full of albums, where pictures slowly turn yellow as a result of either indifference or inherent vice or both. Perhaps your own family is in possession of photos from generations long since departed, e.g., grandparents and great-grandparents. Atypical, there is a plethora of photos from my mother’s side of the family, mostly formal, all now scanned, saved, and ready to pass along to the next generation. By comparison, there’s something lost in today’s ubibiqitious candid photography. A sense of time and place. Because of the high resolution, the mega-pixel technology involved, it’s very likely a photo from today will be mistaken as a photo from twenty years from now. Other than knowing the places and faces, how will anyone be able to tell, in the future, that a photo is from the new olden days versus the new today?

Maybe it doesn’t make a difference to others, but for me, something is lost when you can no longer distinguish between those faces and places in a photo from a specific time versus those from a photo from long ago, and vice-versa. There’s this sense of sentimentality that I believe a photo should provide a viewer. If you see an old photo that reminds you of people and a place just visited yesterday, then the sentimental perspective has somehow been lost. An obvious example might be that of watching the aged footage from Super Bowl I versus last year’s Super Bowl. The differences are glaringly obvious. I use this as an example, as I recently watched recorded coverage of the Super Bowl from ten years ago, and, due to technology, I was convinced the footage could just as easily have been from last year’s Super Bowl.

Speaking for myself, I think I will eventually learn to no longer appreciate all those digital photos my wife and I have taken and will take over the coming years, as they will have been taken with ease and in multiples. I further suspect it will be more trouble than it’s worth reviewing them, nostalgically, because of their volume and because of how digitally clean they will have remained over time. My thinking, as I work toward my curmudgeon’s license, is as we age, so should our photographs.


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