WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE FAMILY ALBUM?


There is a web site called IT Facts that is crammed with information about all sorts of things technologicaL A lot of it to do with digital photography. The site predicts that 60 billion digital photographs will be taken in 2011 and, astonishingly, only 13% of them will ever be printed.

That means 52.2 billion will languish on hard drives and CDs  and only 7.8 billion will ever see the inside of a photo album, or even a shoebox. Compare that to film when the bulk of photographs taken were printed.

The implications are interesting. Obviously the printing labs have taken a huge hit. Not so obviously the makers of digital photo frames are doing well ( 30 million to ship by 2010), which in its turn must be eating into the sales of the traditional photo album … and that means fewer photo corners sold and so on. And the probability that digital photo frames will be around for the long haul is zero.

I am not bothered by the profits or losses of any of these companies, but the long-term implications are troubling for family, and community history. Most of our images of the past are in the form of prints – relatively few negatives have been preserved and I see no reason why that should change given the frequent updating of media and the subsequent non-availability of equipment to read the older stuff . Files will disappear and if they are not printed, all the images will go.

I bought a collection of photo albums that document the life of a single woman from a schoolgirl in 1922, through her days as a motorcycle despatch rider in World War II until her death in the mid-Fifties. I paid $20 for the eleven volumes, but it is a priceless archive as it documents so closely an ordinary life through one the most turbulent periods in World History. The image above is the first page of the 1941 – 1945 volume.

Without prints it is hard to see a similar record of life at the beginning  of the Twenty-First century surving until 2055. Who is going to bother transferring files from old media to new media over that sort of time frame? Sure, high level programs from government and art institutions might, but the ordinary man or woman in the street?

Maybe it is time for a “Save The Photographic Print” body to join “Save the Whale” and “Save our Forests” as a major lobby group.

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