Some thoughts about photographs

Polaroid of the park, January 2013
Polaroid of the park, January 2013

Before I took the above photo I hadn’t taken any pictures on an analogue camera for about six years. A couple of months ago, we were looking through photograph albums full of pictures of my maternal grandparents, their parents, my grandma’s sisters, and my mum and her sisters as children. This led me to wonder whether people in 50 or 100 or more years time will be able to see pictures of our generation who predominantly choose to use digital cameras and very rarely actually print any of our photos. I suppose things like wedding pictures, and maybe pictures of new babies and graduations and things still get printed out more often than not, but the ‘everyday’ things, and even more unusual things like holidays, are often only recorded and stored using digital equipment. A friend of ours recently returned from Brazil and all his photos were on his iPhone. Even if we continue to have access to digital images, it’s probably fairly unlikely that anyone in 100 years time will be able (even if they had the inclination) to look at the photos that are currently stored on my (or indeed most other people’s) digital storage devices – laptops, hard drives, mobile phones, etc.

Apart from the interest of the images themselves, the photograph as a physical object holds its own appeal. As the physical form of a printed book can tell us about the time it was created, so the photograph as object can tell us a lot about the time and circumstances during which it was taken, developed and printed. For example, the type of paper the photo is printed on can give us information about when and where the picture was produced, and who produced it, and I’m sure there are many other things about the printed photograph that photography experts find useful and interesting, but which I know nothing about.

As well as this, there is something good and even a bit exciting about looking at and handling an old photograph, whether it’s from 1944 or 1984. It’s something that was there – an artifact, a piece of history. In some way, I think that old photographs are the nearest thing to time travel we have so far – moments in time captured and recorded to enable us to see into the past. Of course, this applies to digital photographs too, but the finality (for want of a better word) of the recording doesn’t really exist in the same way as with printed photographs. Nowadays we can change images, editing out the bits (or people) we don’t like – what does this mean for memory if a photo is the only thing you’ve got to go on?

With this in mind, after I’d spent time looking at the old family photos I decided to print off quite a lot of pictures of family taken over the last few years. I don’t know if anyone will want to look at them in the future, but you never know.

On a related note, I found it very interesting to read that the Impossible Project, who began producing new Polaroid-type film after Polaroid stopped making it, have now developed a machine to print Polaroid-type photos from an iPhone! It is quite cool. I suspect it will be also be fairly expensive, and I don’t even have an iPhone, but never mind!  I still have four pictures left on my old Sun 600…

Polaroid Sun 600
Polaroid Sun 600

2 thoughts on “Some thoughts about photographs

  1. I think there is something special about actual photographs. I have inherited some old family photo albums which I treasure. They are a real and tangible link with the past. The only sad thing is that in the really old ones there are photos of people who must be relatives but I don’t know who they are and there is no-one alive now to ask.

    There is one of a young man with a lovely smile and I would love to know who he was.

    The good thing about digital photos though is that they are so accessible. You don’t have to get them out of the loft/ down from the top of a a wardrobe! Also I like the fact that you can delete unflattering ones 🙂

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