Where have all the Photos Gone? by Ron Steinman

With the democratization of picture taking, do photos have the same meaning they once had?
As you read this, millions of people are snapping pictures with either a digital camera or the digital camera attached to their smart phone. Millions more are figuring out how to store those photos, whether on memory sticks, on their computer hard drives, or more recently in the cloud. Most people probably do not know how many digital images they have or where they store them. Often, they destroy images in their camera to make room for new images that catch their eye. Photos end up on Facebook, and other social media sites because that is where people share what they shot.
A reminder. It was not always that way. At one time in the not distant past, digital did not exist. Film did exist. We developed the shots we took in one of the many labs, stores if you will, that dotted every neighborhood. When the developed pictures came back to us, we looked at them and sometimes ordered extra prints from the negatives, yes, negatives. Then we duly stored the original prints and the negatives in a closet, the back of a desk drawer or in a box that lay in the dark under a bed or a bureau. Sometimes, if we were ambitious, we put the photos in an album and noted the dates and circumstances when we first shot the photos. In many cases, whether black and white or color, over time the pictures faded and lost their depth and contrast. They looked thin and, frankly, were thin in terms how they appeared to the naked eye.
In my family as a young boy, from what I recall, my father had the usual Brownie camera and nothing else. In my family, we reserved picture snapping for important events: births, Bar Mitzvahs, engagements, and weddings. Rarely did we take a photo because we could or there was some other kind of event that warranted taking pictures.
By the time I was married with children we used every kind of camera imaginable. When I moved from the suburbs to Manhattan about eight years ago, among the things I put in storage were many, many boxes of still photos and negatives that I and my family produced over more than 45 years living in one place or another using several kinds of Nikon, an Olympus, a Canon, and a variety of point and shoot cameras that were easy to use and took little expertise. Those cameras are mostly gone now, except for a few lenses that I still have.
Today this is all changed. Cameras are not only cheaper, but almost every new cell phone and especially every smart phone has a camera as part of the apps to help the photographer do a better (or different) job of taking a picture. No negatives exist today. With digital negatives are a dead issue. With every picture one takes, there are ways to store every image made for fun, on the run or just because the camera was available.
Back in the day, the quality of the family still photo was rarely important. Photos then existed as records. It did not matter how poorly anything looked, as long as the image defined the people and the event. Call me a dinosaur, but I still get a thrill when I hold a photo of someone my family or I shot, that I recreated from a negative. This does not mean I am against digital, but I wonder where all those millions of digital of photos are going, and if, indeed they are somewhere in a cloud or buried deep in a hard drive, do they have the same meaning as those old photos on paper have and for some, always will.
Footnote. Someday I will convert my thousands of negatives into digital and place them on a DVD. But I will never toss the negatives. Who knows when we will see their likes again?



Filed under Memoir and Journals

3 responses to “Where have all the Photos Gone? by Ron Steinman

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