Evan and I share a compulsion: any time we see old photographs in thrift or antique store, we buy them. I think both of us feel a need to rescue orphaned images because a) they are beautiful and interesting and b) we both feel some sort of obligation to preserve these relics that represent an important history – the history of photography.
Since the rise of the DSLR and mobile photography, there has been endless debate about the “devaluing” of photography. While I see some valid points in the devaluation argument, I do not feel as though photography is being devalued. It has changed (and is still changing) tremendously, yes, but I think there is still value placed on photographic images.
The printed photograph, though, is an entirely different story.
When I was growing up, my friends and I would have dozens, sometimes hundreds, of prints in our rooms. Framed, on bulletin boards, in scrap books, collaged, used as wallpaper – prints were everywhere!
I don’t know about all of you, but I do not make as many prints as I used to. Instead of getting triple prints made from a negative to send to my grandmother, my pen pal, and to give to my friend down the street to put on her bulletin board, there is one digital file, and it is uploaded to Facebook or Instagram.
I’m not saying that sharing on Facebook or Instagram is a bad thing, in fact, most of you know that I LOVE sharing my photos online, holy moly!
What worries me, though, is the digital file itself – will it survive the test of time? I can’t help but think it won’t. I’m afraid that so many of my photos, both my personal photos and my work as an artist, will become damaged, corrupt, erased and forgotten. I’m worried that, in 50 years, all of us may be hard-pressed to locate photos from Aunt Susie and Uncle Bill’s wedding, because only a handful of prints were made, and all of the digital files have disappeared for one reason or another. You may think, “It will be fine, I have my files backed up a million times” which is great for now and you should absolutely do that, but will there even be software to read those files for your great grandchildren, or will JPEGs be obsolete in the year 2100?
All of this is just food for thought, really. I am not interested in the devaluing-of-photography-due-to-sheer volume debate. I’m not even really interested in the what-is-art-in-photography debate, either. I am just making an observation of where we are in terms of preserving images, and theorizing on where we may be headed, that’s all.
In the mean time, I am going to try to be better about having prints made of some of my favorite photos.