Thursday, June 19, 2014

Brave New World of Memories

Picture of me in Florence, Italy - September 1999 - I was a pretty cute 20 year old.
I spent the fall semester of 1999 studying in London. That semester included a trip to the continent (France, Italy, Switzerland, and Germany), a long weekend trip to Scotland, a week long trip to Ireland, and trips all over London. I took many rolls of film with me, tried to heed the warnings about what x-ray machines would do to my film when going through customs, and when I finally returned to the States I eagerly waited with bated breath for the store to finish developing over 300 (that's right, THREE HUNDRED) pictures.

By contrast I took nearly 400 pictures on digital devices during a single week long family vacation to Florida.

I love taking pictures. I love looking at pictures. Photographs are a time capsule; they capture a moment, an emotion, a memory. And they help us share those moments, emotions, and memories with those who cannot be there in person.

I was so excited when I got my first camera. It was a new kind of independence. Suddenly I was in charge of my own memories. I wasn't dependent on my mom and dad to take all of my pictures. With my little 110 mm camera I was able to take pictures of anything I wanted: vacations, youth group trips, randomness. While I would still occasionally try to get doubles of pictures my parents developed (remember getting doubles???) most of the time I would use my saved allowance so that I could pay for photo developing of my very own pictures. It was exciting to open up that envelope of freshly developed pictures to see how my photography had turned out.

I took this picture at Niagara Falls shortly after I got the camera.

Then I moved to the 35 mm camera and a whole new world was opened to me: better pictures and now I had a choice between 3.5 inch prints or 4.5 inch prints. I was traveling more, spending more time away from family, and I had a better camera with which to capture those moments. In the months leading up to the above mentioned semester in London I lamented the fact that I had a poor camera with which to take pictures of exciting new places. My parents bought themselves a new camera with a significant zoom lens and they let me take it to Europe. Problem solved. I came home with mostly fantastic shots of my adventure. Then my fiance (now husband) bought me a new camera to take with us to Colorado to visit his sister. More great pictures taken with a new and even better camera than I had before.

A couple years later, as we packed for our trip out to Yellowstone, my husband's parents loaned us their 3 megapixel camera. I was anti-digital. Why would I want to give up my film camera for a digital camera? How would I print pictures? Where would I store the pictures? Would they even be as good as the pictures that I took with my fairly decent film camera? During that trip we took pictures with both cameras. Both sets of pictures turned out great and I did, in fact, print out the digital photos. We have all those photos stored in a photo album somewhere on a shelf.

Nearly ten years later we live in a digital world with multiple digital devices that we use to document nearly every moment of our family's life. Like many American families we each have phones with cameras built in and we have a separate digital camera. We actually have two digital cameras, but I don't know when we last used the other one. We take pictures and videos all the time. If the kids are doing something funny and my husband isn't around, I take pictures and send them to him. Sometimes I just post them straight to Facebook. And I am no longer printing out those photos and putting them into photo albums. In fact, the last couple of years I have felt like a terrible parent as I have seen the other family displays that other kids have at daycare (each of the rooms have a collage of pictures for the kids to look at during the day so they can see their families) and felt like a terrible mother. Since I never print out the hundreds upon hundreds of pictures that we take all year round, my kids have not had the best family collages. Maybe that is another summer project I need to add to the list.

I started thinking about this yesterday as I sat down to work on photo books for the kids and for us. Photo printing may be a rarity, but I do keep our photos printed in the form of digitally produced photo books. I am not a scrapbooker, but I do try to keep up with the photo books, if only to make sure that we have hard copies of them somewhere in the house. However, I am seriously behind. As of this writing I have the last year of photos to catch up on for the whole family and the last seven months of photos to catch up on for both kids. And that is after spending the last three days trying to get caught up and completing three photo books that now need to be ordered. As I slaved away on my computer selecting photos and "dragging" them to their newly assigned place in a yet to be printed book, I started thinking about the loss of photographs as a hard record of events. I love looking at old photos, not just my old photos but photographs of my parents and grandparents. The loss of photographs is like the loss of letter writing, another former tool of record keeping that has gone the way of email and social media. While I love my now thousands of digital photos, all proudly displayed on my Facebook page, there is something significant about the tangible. About being able to hold a picture or letter and know that it is not a virus or finger swipe away from deletion.

I think about my many teenage students. They have grown up in a digital world. All of their memories are stored on hard drives or in cyberspace. They lose their phone or camera or something gets hit with a virus and every photo, every captured memory, could be erased. Some print out the pictures, but just like when I was a high school and college student, printing costs money. And unlike my high school experience, they can still see their pictures and share them with each other without thinking about potential dangers to their digital world.

Don't get me wrong. Digital photography is a fantastic advancement. It has made capturing the moment so much easier. But in the last couple days I have been reminded of the importance of the tangible, of keeping a hard copy of those memories at hand. I don't know if I could ever go back and I have no desire to do so, but that doesn't mean I have to stop filling up photo albums to share with future generations. So I guess I have work to do this summer...

1 comment:

  1. I'm working on my Shutterfly albums this summer, too. I love digital pictures, but hard copies are still so important. The nice thing about digital, as overwhelming as it can be, is that we can always reprint pictures - and albums, should anything happen to them!