Physical Photographs: A Weird Afterthought

By Deane Barker on August 21, 2010

When digital cameras first hit the market, they were kind of a novelty.  My mother bought one, but she didn’t love it because it was just an expensive, complicated way for her to get a physical photograph.

And that’s all that mattered to her – the physical photograph.  The digital version was an annoying step in the process.  My wife was the same way for a long time.

Related to this, two years ago, I posted a short item about how global paper use is declining.  In it, I quoted this:

“Paper is no longer the master copy; the digital version is,” says Brewster Kahle, the founder and director of the Internet Archive, a nonprofit digital library.

This has also become true with pictures.  We had family portraits taken a couple weeks ago.  They turned out great, and my wife made an appointment with the photographer to pick the ones she wanted.  She asked me which ones I wanted, and I was a little taken aback by the question.

“Well, I want all of them,” I responded.  “Can’t you just get a CD?”

“Maybe,” Annie said.  “But which ones do you want…for real?  Like, to put in an album?”

“Um…none…of…them?”

I honestly couldn’t figure out what I would do with a paper photograph.  I was at a loss of what the value was.  It seemed so…limiting.

I just got 400+ pictures from a friend of her vacation to Italy.  I put them on my iPad, which is fantastic for scrolling through large sets of pictures.  This is frankly all the photo album I think I will ever need.

So, image media has officially been reversed.  The digital version used to be an annoying stepping stone to a physical version.  Now, the physical version is almost a weird afterthought.

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Comments

  1. The physical photograph has the honor of occupying two places in our house, now.

    1. The walls, where we have tons of framed pictures of our kids.
    2. The basement, in a cupboard, where they sit neglected and ignored.
  2. Portraitists remain the underbelly, refusing (in my admittedly limited experience) to release the digital copies. The phrase “what a racket” comes to mind.

    I still like photo albums for their tactile immediacy & sharability, especially for use by young kids.

  3. I just got 400+ pictures from a friend of her vacation to Italy. I put them on my iPad, which is fantastic for scrolling through large sets of pictures. This is frankly all the photo album I think I will ever need.

    Until, of course, your iPad gets stolen or left on the counter & one of the kids knocks it to the floor and it never boots up again, or dropped in a toilet, or… The nice thing about a physical copy is that the digital version can be far too fragile. Joel Belz wrote a good piece on that subject recently; http://www.worldmag.com/articles/16981 . In short, digital stuff is great until the devices used to view them have problems. Then they aren’t so great.

    Also, The Book Of Eli offers a lesson on this topic… ;o)

  4. Unless, of course, you are using som kind of backup-solution, like for example Dropbox. A physical photoalbum can also be lost, in a fire for example. So, digital is better, but as always, you have to know what you are doing.

  5. “or dropped in a toilet”

    Dropping a phyical picture into a toilet render that copy useless… …I’m pretty sure most people would just flush…

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