Last Monday it rained the entire morning. It was a particularly off day for me too as I spent about half an hour staring at the laptop screen and nothing seemed to come out of my head. I realized it was one of those days when Mother Nature conspires with lady luck so that I would be forced to take my eyes off the digital screen and spend some time appreciating the wonders of nature around me.
I guess I could afford to do this too (appreciate nature on a Monday morning) because of my current status as a freelance writer. It is one of the prerogatives of the job! Anyways, I was having a conversation with my wife, about the six years we’ve been married, the many memories we have shared, the good, the bad and the magical. All of a sudden she said something that startled me and to some extent scared me. She said, she never gets to see the old photos and videos.
Ever since I stopped using film and switched to digital the urge to print has gone down considerably. The only time I print is when I am commissioned to do so and that too when the client needs a print and makes a special request. Sometimes I make enlargements of my photos for my personal and commercial requirements. But that’s about it. I hardly ever print a photo for the personal album. Most of my albums are from the pre-digital era. It’s not that I don’t want to print but the whole exercise seems kind of futile. Why would you want to print in the digital era? “This is some junk marketing technique from a printing company.” I often say this to myself and to the proponents of printing.
Most of my personal photos are shared online on social media. If someone needs a copy of the photos without the watermark (somebody from the family) all they need is to ask and I share the same via email or some such means. There’s hardly a reason to waste money and materials to print. Having said that, a majority of the family photos I shoot are never shared at all. It scares me even when I write this but there are many photos that have been shot in RAW and never processed and or converted to JPEGs.
Nowadays, coming back after every vacation, I make it a point to plug a portable hard drive, containing all the photos (usually the JPEGs) and videos from the trip, to my TV and spend an entire evening watching them with my family. It pains me to say that’s about the only time that my family gets to see those photo and videos, all at the same time. Back in the days of film every roll of film was sent for developing and printing and the printed photos would be properly arranged in albums. This whole process took 2-3 days to be completed. The best thing was that the photos are there in the album waiting to be viewed anytime anyone wanted to reminisce the memory of that vacation. With digital technology, the photos sit inside my backup drives and there is no way one can have access to those unless I pull them up.
As a matter of fact I have a complicated back up procedure and though it is not up there at par with Fortune 500 companies it does the job for me. Most importantly, I sleep more peacefully ever since I had the backup architecture in place. The same backup system, however, makes things difficult when it comes to accessibility of the family photos and videos.
As I flipped through the old family albums on that wet Monday morning, a thought crossed my mind. What happens if my secure backup architecture somehow was to fail tomorrow? Our collective memories, all the best moments we had together as a family, the birth of our daughter, her first footsteps, her first words, her first song and thousands of other priceless moments, will all be lost in an instant if something was to happen to my backup system.It will be like the last 6-7 years of our life never existed at all!
Although it is highly unlikely that all my backup drives will become unusable at the same time, I cannot ignore the worst case scenarios. What if there is a fire? What if there is a flood or an earthquake, and all my drives are destroyed at the blink of an eye? I’ll lose everything! I know what you are thinking at this point. I am paranoid. Think about it hard enough and I guarantee that you will come to a similar conclusion.
A logical solution would be upload everything to cloud. But can you really upload all your images to the cloud? All 50 Gigs of it? The cloud isn’t that cheap as yet and although connectivity isn’t like the snail speed it used to before, it isn’t lightning either. Let’s face it. It is not cheap to use the cloud. On a daily basis that does not serve the purpose of accessing the photos and videos either. I will have to spend a lot of money to access my own photos!
Printing somehow makes sense. Though it does not answer the problem with my videos but at least it does about my photos. Printing is definitely more personal. You can touch the photos, smell them, look at them for minutes together without developing itchy fingers. They are the next best thing to actually be back in time.
I know printed images are just as susceptible to the elements of nature as portable hard drives are. But they are at least more accessible. At least my wife and my daughter will never again complain that they don’t get to see the old images anymore. Plus, somehow, old images do survive and they will continue to do so. How old do you think your family photos are? I have in our family album images from well over 90 years ago and they are still ok. They are a bit worn out but they have managed to survived. I cannot seem to remember where I misplaced my first set of digital images shot with an Agfa CL-18. They have managed to elude me even though I have searched for them over and over again.
The crux of the matter is printed photos have a certain irresistible charm about them. It feels great to hold them and look at them. That’s how photos were supposed to be looked at ever since the process was invented. Digital technology somehow has changed everything. Whether it is for good or worse only time will tell.