Camera - - NEWS - Paul Bur­rows, Ed­i­tor

The loom­ing cri­sis in dig­i­tal imag­ing is that the last 15 years or so of doc­u­ment­ing so­cial his­tory has not been com­mit­ted to print. We’re do­ing more snap­ping than ever be­fore, but it’s merely the mo­ment that mat­ters now and not what hap­pens next. Prob­a­bly mil­lions of images cur­rently ex­ist­ing on smart­phones won’t sur­vive be­yond that de­vice’s life­span. The brief post­ing on Face­book, In­sta­gram or what­ever shar­ing plat­form is cur­rently in fash­ion is the only re­quire­ment, and we move on. It’s not even about mak­ing prints at this point, it’s about ac­tu­ally both­er­ing to move images off the smart­phone into more per­ma­nent stor­age.

OK, so a fair pro­por­tion of these images prob­a­bly aren’t worth sav­ing, but a lot of them are vis­ual records of a par­tic­u­lar point in time… and his­tory has al­ready proved that snapshots can be a valu­able his­tor­i­cal record, far more so than a cre­ative im­age that’s pri­mar­ily an artis­tic state­ment more than any­thing else. The vast col­lec­tion of pho­tog­ra­phy held by the State Li­brary Of NSW, for ex­am­ple, is largely made up of snapshots from the time when pho­tog­ra­phy be­came ac­ces­si­ble to the masses to the end of film. No­body who sim­ply stored all their old pho­tographs in shoe­boxes is likely to have thought they were build­ing an ar­chive which would have his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance in the fu­ture, but that’s ac­tu­ally what was hap­pen­ing. Now those prints tells us, in broader terms, in­ter­est­ing things about fash­ion, ar­chi­tec­ture, tech­nol­ogy, trans­port, so­cial con­ven­tions and sport­ing ac­tiv­i­ties. And, of course, they’re records of fam­ily oc­ca­sions and out­ings, gath­er­ings of friends and per­sonal mile­stones… equally im­por­tant if, down the track, some­body wants to doc­u­ment a fam­ily’s his­tory. Un­less some­body has been very dili­gent in their cat­a­logu­ing and ar­chiv­ing of dig­i­tal images over the last decade (and into the fu­ture), these sorts of pic­tures will be hard to find, if they still ex­ist at all.

In the ‘old days’ of film pro­cess­ing ev­ery frame got printed, but now we’re very se­lec­tive about whether an im­age is ‘wor­thy’ of be­ing made into a print… prob­a­bly be­cause we rarely think of any­thing smaller than A4 size. This means that even at the en­thu­si­ast level, very few images are be­ing printed and, I’m pre­pared to bet, vir­tu­ally no fam­ily-type pic­tures be­yond per­haps wed­dings and the ‘big 0’ birth­days. My wife is the so­cial pho­tog­ra­pher in our house­hold and there’s a neat line of photo al­bums dat­ing from the early 1990s to 2012… then noth­ing. Even when she switched to a dig­i­tal com­pact, she still dili­gently copied the files to a DVD and had the lo­cal mini­lab make sets of prints. So what hap­pened af­ter 2012? The smart­phone, that’s what (and, per­haps not so coin­ci­den­tally, the mini­lab closed its doors shortly af­ter). There hasn’t been a print made since, not just be­cause the files are titchy, but be­cause I’m not sure we know where they are. Ap­ple, in par­tic­u­lar, makes the process of trans­fer­ring images be­tween de­vices so il­log­i­cal – even in these days of cloud stor­age – that no­body can be both­ered. Yet those al­bums – and even ones from fur­ther back – are of­ten pulled out to re­call an event, con­firm a de­tail that’s been long for­got­ten or ir­refutably solve an ar­gu­ment. There’s a tan­gi­ble plea­sure in look­ing at old prints and it’s all to do with mem­o­ries… many a din­ner party has gone on long into the night as al­bums are pored over and you’re in­stantly trans­ported back to that party, hol­i­day or special event. And the medium it­self helps here… prints are easy to look at in any light­ing, and you can have mul­ti­ple prints be­ing handed around at any time so every­body is in­volved and there’s no need to wait un­til the de­vice gets to you, the screen has gone blank and its owner has to come and help you find the folder again… talk about killing the mo­ment.

We need to get back into the habit of mak­ing prints just for the fun of it. You don’t have to do it your­self ei­ther… it’s still easy to find a cam­era store that can print from a DVD or mem­ory card, or has a self-ser­vice kiosk where you can cre­ate your own or­ders. How­ever, it’s much more fun to do it your­self and, I must con­fess, un­til re­cently I hadn’t printed any­thing for quite a while, but on a whim de­cided to make a few A4 prints from a re­cent trip to Italy. And I was hooked again. Noth­ing beats a good print, even at ‘only’ A4 size – there’s a lot more to see, peo­ple take more no­tice of the con­tent, and there’s no bet­ter con­ver­sa­tion starter. A friend of mine prints out all his shots on post­card-size pa­per so he can give them away to any­body who likes the im­age… and it’s led to or­ders for big­ger edi­tions. Com­mer­cial sales, that is.

Mak­ing a print is part of mak­ing a pho­to­graph, and it’s cer­tainly part of en­sur­ing its preser­va­tion. If you thought the pic­ture was worth tak­ing in the first place, then it’s worth printing.

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