El Niño, Downtown Los Angeles 1966 - age 3.

El Niño, Downtown Los Angeles 1966 - age 3.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Incredible Shrinking Family Photo Album

It's a Small World. A snapshot from the late 1960s that I recovered from an old dusty box at a flea market.

Ever since the Great White digital camera shark swallowed up all of our film cameras, we now take digital photographs in record numbers. Throw in the cell phone camera which virtually everyone is armed with these days and we have become a very well documented generation. If aliens landed on the most remote area of the Siberian Desert, a weary sheep herder would probably be there to snap a photo with his cell phone camera and have it posted on Facebook later on that day. He would probably make several attempts with his arm extended out as wide as possible to capture the perfect image of himself embraced with the strange creature from another galaxy. “Are you good with this one ?, can I tag you in it ?” he would ask his new friend with the long green limbs and odd shaped head.

A recent trip to Disneyland with my digital point and shoot camera netted me about 300 photos in about 10 hours (aren’t all digital cameras point and shoot?) . The freedom of having inexpensive gigabytes of storage space on my camera allowed me to take multiple photos of Main Street and Sleeping Beauty’s Castle from about every possible angle. After about an hour, I stopped thinking about time and space and stopped thinking creatively. I just pointed the camera and snapped away. We live in times of instant gratification where we retake several self portraits of ourselves until “we” look just perfect. I am just as guilty on all counts. I just looked on my portable USB hard drive where I have “backup-ed” all of my digital photos from the last five years. 800 gigabytes of memories from parties, amusement parks, girlfriends, vacations, dogs and family functions and not one of them on photo paper. I have become lazy with preserving my own documentation.

When we traveled with the point and shoot film camera, our limitations were bound to 24 or 36 exposures if we had a single roll of film, double that if we were high rollers and had two rolls. I recently came across my own personal snapshots from Disneyland excursions in the 1980s and 1990s and I can only count about 20 exposures from each trip. One roll even had the tail end of a day at Venice Beach from the previous month. Flipping through these 4x6 pieces of paper, I realized that both my trips to the Magic Kingdom were well documented with the small amount of images I exposed. Everything was accounted for. There were photos of myself and friends in front of Main Street, The Matterhorn, Toontown and at the soaking end of the Thunder Mountain roller coaster. There were photos of us eating overpriced Magic Kingdom frozen bananas, waiting in line for the submarine ride and even one of myself doing my famous monkey man walk in Tomorrowland. I counted as I snapped photos, planned accordingly and saved the last couple of shots for the Main Street Electrical Parade at the end of the day. I still have these “real” photos in my hand along with many of the Disneyland snapshots that my parents took in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Some are still in the yellowing Thrifty one hour photo envelope along with their negatives, some are in a cardboard box in the garage, others in the back of a desk drawer or carefully arranged in photo album. They are tangible pieces of family documentation and not just a string of digital 1’s and 0’s that compose an image on a computer screen. Film was always enough because we planned diligently for each exposure. Today with digital monsters, we shoot now and ask questions later and arrive home with scores and scores of digital images with only the choice ones making the marquee on Facebook and Flickr. Very few of those snapshots if any, every graduate to a cardboard photo album or picture frame on our desk.

Sadly I don’t think enough of us go through the trouble of printing our digital snapshots. We want to believe that they will always be there for us on the computer until that fateful day when the hard drive crashes instantly wiping out thousands of memories. They reside on Facebook, Flickr and icloud, multiplying like rabbits by the thousands every hour, every day, every month and every year. We blink our eyes and we have more digital images than we will ever know what to do with. Printing them would be too cumbersome at this point. Overzealous photo taking has become a hard drive or a digital storage site that is just taking on way too much water. Our thoughts are, “hey, I will dive to the bottom of the ocean and recover what I want some day.”

I often wonder what will happen to today’s digital photos 10, 20 or 50 years from now. What will the future bring to those candid photos of our graduations, family barbeques, road trips, summer sweethearts or of Larry the one-eyed family bulldog. Will someone ever look in an old dusty box at a flea market and find that fantastic image of an unknown family from another time, posing in front of the Small World attraction ? From my walker at the convalescent hospital will I ever reach to my book shelf and clutch an old photo album of my own personal memories from that Fourth of July weekend in the year 2011 ? Time will only tell.

Now if you will excuse me, I need to load up my flashdrive and head over to the one hour photo kiosk at my local pharmacy.

1 comment:

  1. very interesting and provocative point about the legacy (or possible lack thereof)of digital photography. I often wonder the same thing about digital music files. ~ james