A Photo in Time

Posted: October 12, 2010 in Baby, Computing, General, Movies/TV/Music

Looking through my iPhoto library the other day I realized something profound. My son’s generation will be memorialized in a way never seen before. A hundred years from now, it is very possible for my son’s great-great-grandchildren to pour through hundreds of photos and video from the day that he was born until possibly the day he dies. The images that we take today have no life-expectancy.

The first photograph was taken in 1822, but the first truly consumer camera didn’t come about until 1888. At $25 for 100 photos, though, it wasn’t really reasonable for a household whose yearly income was less than $500.

It wasn’t until World War II when personal photos started to become an approachable consumer technology. In the sixties photographs were joined by Super 8 film. Followed by VHS in the eighties.

This accelerating progression found an important new medium in the early nineties with digital imagery. Becoming truly approachable in the new millennium. The cost of capturing a quality photo or video has dropped to almost nothing.

In 19 months, my wife and I have taken almost 4000 photos and videos of our son. A photo, on average, every 3.5 hours. That doesn’t include photos that other friends and family have taken over time. Obviously that pace won’t continue for his lifetime, but there is no doubt that this far outweighs anything from my childhood.

I’m sure some might even suggest that before digital, you had to be selective about the photos you took, choosing only the important events, and that each photograph carried greater weight. I wouldn’t disagree, but the importance of this isn’t the number of images as much as the method used to capture them, and more importantly the ease at which those photos can be duplicated.

We have a number of photo albums of classic photos. My grandfather in the forties, my parent’s wedding, and photos of my childhood. I can only imagine the thousands of photos that were lost to time in the back of desks, used as bookmarks, thrown out during spring cleaning, or just found a home somewhere other than the albums we currently have (which truth-be-told aren’t even really our albums). Some photos are labeled, many are not. Many photos only exist in the photo album, a single copy that is irreplaceable.

We are working to scan and catalog all of these photos, and that will help preserve the photos, but there is still a sense that a the duplicate isn’t the same (and in essence a scanned photo is a copy of a copy).

The point is this. I’m sure even when my grandparents took a photo of my parents they were doing so with the knowledge that even the snapshot of that moment in time would degrade and probably disappear. Perhaps a lucky few would last fifty years, maybe some would last a hundred, but beyond that who knows. In a hundred years we’ve gone from a photograph being a luxury item, to such a common thing that the images themselves have no value beyond emotion.

Today, it is very possible, that every single photo and video we record will exist for millennia. Our entire life stored in a minor sub-folder on a teenager’s computer two-hundred years from now, and it will all look as good as it does today (perhaps even better).

Much like that box of photos though, it is our responsibility to do more than just capture these images, the story behind the images are important too. After all, three thousand images only carry emotional weight if they have reason to.

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