I read an article recently stating it’s been estimated that more photos have been taken in the past 5 years than all prior years combined. I suppose this isn’t hard to imagine given that practically every man, woman and child has some sort of picture-taking device on their person at all times. We’re all constantly snapping away for Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest. People are deluged with photographs! But what will happen to all of these photos?
Back “in the day” – and I’m talking about film – we printed our images. There was a great anticipation when we took our film to a local lab (OK, Fotomat!) and couldn’t wait for it to be developed so we could look at the pictures. Then the pictures were put into an album or into a photo box. We would look at them periodically and remember the time they were taken, laugh at the goofy outfit our parents forced us to wear, or recall cherished times with grandparents. The printed photos represented a slice of our life and would be the first thing we swore we’d grab if disaster struck.
Today, most photographs taken will not survive beyond a year. A “picture” is only good for the moment. When you want to show off the new kitten, you scroll through the phone. A week later, you’re deleting these images to make room for more pictures that also will have a very short shelf-life. It’s estimated that less than 1 out of 100,000 photographs taken today actually ends up being a printed photograph. If you consider that number and then throw in the rate at which technology changes, a huge number of images are probably stored (or will be stored) on media that is, or will, no longer be supported. In 5 years or less, your DVD is going to be obsolete along with your USB drives. File types will change as well. Tomorrow’s technology may not support these “older” file types.
So what does all this mean? For me, it means that family histories will not be documented. It means that many people will not have tangible memories of grandparents, cousins, school friends, or pets. It means this generation that “shares” everything and loves taking pictures of everything has probably never printed one. So many of my clients only want digital files so they get a USB and put it in a drawer, mixed in with the photo CDs and those floppy disks all of which contain slices of their life they’ll probably never be able to access. And this makes me sad. Very sad.
In my home, you will find photographs – lots of them! They’re nothing fancy but they document so many phases of my life. The photographs are printed on archival paper (even Costco can provide that) and I know without a shadow of doubt that in 50 years, they’ll still be around to be seen by my grandchildren and hopefully beyond.
As I wind this up, I ask just one thing…the next time you take pictures of your family vacation or a holiday gathering, print them! The next time you work with a professional photographer for a family portrait, purchase a beautiful wall print or canvas because it will become an heirloom piece for your family to have and remember for many years to come (and you’ll probably get the digital file for free as well!).
Life is fleeting, so document it…in prints! Let’s prevent the lost legacy of the most photographed generation.