‘Son, could you find me those pictures that we took in Venice?”
“Of course, dad, no problem. Just a minute.”
After a few minutes and a few scrolls up and down the smart phone, the reply comes, “Sorry dad. I could not find the photographs. I think they are in the other phone. Just give me another minute.”
Another few minutes later ... “Dad, I think I downloaded the pictures onto the computer. Do you want to see them right now or can I look for them later?”
This conversation is not specific to any particular family. All of us have probably gone through this at some point of time or the other. Yet, many lack the discipline or the will to print on photographic paper precious memories of trips to some scenic place, images of children growing up, photographs of meeting relatives after decades or an event that is cherished. Doing so would have saved the son and his father precious time in the story above, and also allowed them to savour the photographs together.
Printing photographs is not a custom that ought to have died when we started archiving images digitally. It is a practice that should continue if we want to save photographs and retrieve them at the snap of a finger.
We live in a digital graveyard, peering uncontrollably at our digital devices, checking every few moments to see if a message or email brings good news or calls us to action, wondering whether it will dramatically alter the course of our lives or the lives of someone sitting in another corner of the world. Whether it be news articles, opinion pieces or photographs, all of these lie dumped in some forlorn corner of a digital drive or server, waiting to be picked or chosen at an appropriate time. We speak in terms of bytes and gigs, as if increasing the number of these will change the quality of our lives.
Taking pictures is so easy these days. We can generate hundreds of pictures in one day alone. But then what happens after that? Do you upload them to a social media platform? Do you keep them locked away in your phone or computer? Will you look at those pictures again after a few months?
Gone are the days when photographs were stored in albums, when the studio where the pictures were printed would send along a complimentary album to preserve those memories. Gone are the days when entire families would gather around an album to see wedding photographs, pictures of a child’s birthday celebrations or just photographs of the sunrise taken from one’s backyard.
Instead, we are told today to click on a link to see wedding pictures, or view innumerable pictures of every conceivable angle of the sun’s rays during sunrise. Where is the emotion on seeing the digital picture, where is the discipline of selecting the best picture for the album?
For all those who swear by saving their pictures digitally, tell me that you don’t have pictures of your children or family on your office table or on the wall of your home. Or are all of them preserved digitally?
Printed images bring pictures to life. You can carry them along, put them up on the mantle piece, show them adoringly to those who come to your house or just gaze at them for their beauty and charm.
Printed images also mean that your pictures will live on even if your computer refuses to boot up or the external hard drive crashes. In fact you don’t have to worry about technology updating itself — floppy drives, disk drives, HDD, SSD ... never mind. Just print the picture.
But if you would like to have the whole world see what you have cooked for dinner, or where you are dining out, please go ahead and post the pictures on every social networking site you know. You wouldn’t know when that recipe would win a prize or when that restaurant would call you to do a food review.
And what has happened to the digital albums that once adorned many living rooms? You don’t get to hear of new models being produced. The one in my house is gathering dust.
Robert Louis Stevenson captured the images that one sees from a railway carriage. Many of them are like viewing pictures in the digital age:
Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
All by himself and gathering brambles;
Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
And here is the green for stringing the daisies!
Here is a cart runaway in the road
Lumping along with man and load;
And here is a mill, and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone forever!
Life’s best images are not meant to be seen today and forgotten tomorrow. They cannot be glimpsed and be gone forever. They are to be cherished, seen again and again, enjoyed with friends and family, tucked safely away so that they are available for viewing by your bedside.
Printed pictures are not dead. They are only slumbering. And when we come to our senses from this digital chaos, they will spring back to life, bringing with them memories of an era gone by.