I get asked this question all the time: So why do we need an actual printed photograph?
There is a famous quotation by some photographer somewhere (my brain cannot remember where I heard it) that goes something like, “It is not a photograph until it is actually printed.” I think I am absolutely screwing this up, but I really do believe in the sentiment.
There are tons of photographers out there who will do what I affectionately term a “drive by shooting,” i.e. capture images and give them to you on a disk. Excuse me, but Big Deal. What next? Go download them on your computer and forget you have them–how many people are guilty of this? Maybe some day get around to printing them at the mini lab? I think this is a grave disservice to clients, and here is why:
I have always loved photographs, and I was the kid who helped organize the family albums. But every portrait photographer says that somewhere on their website. What I feel really passionate about is leaving a tangible visual legacy for your family.
I believe there are different types of portrait photography. There are the kind of snapshots everyone makes of their kids and loved ones. The casual, in the moment kind of picture where you just want to remember something, so it does not really matter if the lighting or posing is kind of crappy–just so you have something, anything. Every day slice life of pics, like the one I have with one of my kids with underwear on her head because she was calling it her Power Helmet (you know who you are). Most of my family pictures like this were made before I purchased a digital camera, so yes, they are printed. On actual PAPER. By a LAB. And yes, they are in albums. Probably thousands of them–and that is a conservative estimate.
Then there are the type of pictures you actually take your kids someplace and have made. I have those as well–they are in frames, on walls. Because I like to see them every day when I walk by them. They are kind of like the idealized version of how I want to remember my kids’ early years–of course they are minus the underwear headgear and otherwise potentially embarrassing accoutrements. They have clean faces and their hair is actually brushed. They look like they love each other. Like I said, this is the idealized version of how I want to remember those years. At some point, I know they will want to go with that version as well. That is my fervent hope at any rate.
My point with this post is not which type of photography is better. We can have that debate forever and there is no right answer. My point is that it is important to have actual physical prints. You know, those things printed on paper. Since I have switched to digital, I print out way less of my own candid family photos. And this is bad. Very, very bad. Because we do not look at them. The kids still drag the old albums out. I love to hear them laughing and remembering things. But guess what–they rarely ask to see the pictures that are downloaded on the computer. I am very afraid that at some point, those years will cease to exist in their minds. Or at least not be remembered as
clearly and vividly. And what happens if the hard drives crash? What happens when you lose your phone? When someone’s house burns down, the thing they most regret losing is not the TV, the couch or some other “thing.” It is always the pictures. What if you never had them to lose in the first place? How sad.
So I am sort of an evangelist when it comes to printed photographs. My parents, grandparents and great grandparents all left a visual legacy with photographs. I can pull them out and tell my kids about them, and my kids can see what they looked like as young adults. Sharing your images on Facebook is cool and everything, especially if some total stranger “Likes” one of your pictures. But what happens 100 years from now when USB Flash Drives are as obsolete as the Eight Track Tape? Is Facebook still going to be with us? If it is, I doubt your page will still be active. Will most people have transferred their pictures to different media? Or will they have accidentally thrown out their memories? Will your family pictures simply be Lost In Space?
I absolutely value the art of the printed photograph. But I value the art of my family’s life even more.