January 8, 2010

The digital photo conundrum

Ok, moment of truth. How many of us have thanked technology for coming up with digital photography? Almost all of us I bet. Every household now boasts at least one digital camera. All the uncles and auntys are totally familiar with the USB cable and picture transfer, all the way to the uploading of the images on the internet and web-sharing as well. The good old days of film roll are now obsolete and so are the first digicams that had floppy disk/zip drive memories. Now's the age of miniaturization, what with the advanced memory devices which started out at SD and have gone well and beyond micro-SD to built in large memories too. Everything's as perfect can be.

I have a confession to make. I am not entirely satisfied with this arrangement. Back at home in India, we have a huge cabinet stuffed with picture albums that document the childhood of my brother and me. It has all those trips we made as a family, those birthdays, those family outings, my brother's upanayanam, our Kuwait days, and what not. And sifting through these pictures every vacation is a trip down memory lane for me. And though I can do a similar thing on the laptop, sifting through folder after folder of saved photos, I don't do it. And even if I did the warm glow of memories isn't as strong. I don't know why. There's another problem in this. In the days of the film roll which restricted us to 36 pictures per roll (with a charge for development and approximately Rs 5 per "maxi" print), we were judicious in our usage of the roll. And hence every photo was thought out and worth it. Come the digitial era, of course we are thankful for it eliminates the mental tension of waiting for the photos to develop - Was the film inserted correctly? Will Ihave a blank roll? Were too many pics blurred? No tension at all. Instant previews. A bit blurry? No problem. Take 3-4 pictures extra just to make sure you got everything right. You can always delete the ones you don't want later. But hang on a second... how many of you actually go through all the pictures and delete the ones that don't need to be kept? I do. And it's a tedious process. Add to that "selecting" a maximum of a 100 photos from a folder of well over 500 per trip to share with family and friends. And then "working" on them - brightness, contrast, blah blue... And then adding comments to these pictures (ok that's not mandatory but somehow people got very attached to the comments I give under each picture and so now it's no longer an option)... and uploading everything. It's all a big abuse of digital memory and I am only one of the million doing this. And after this tedious process, I kind of lose the interest to sift through those pictures again for a long time. And that's true of every trip/occassion. And so when you think of wanting to relive some of those memories, more often than not, you end up going to your own Picasa album of the event (it has a more concise set) than to the real folder which has one too many extra pictures.

And what about prints? Are you one of those very few who take select prints of your trip just for the keeps? Or is it the one odd blow-up or the personalized calendar? If you are like most people it's the latter. Thanks to all of this... when my laptop crashed and lost a good deal of pictures from recent trips, I experienced no tremendous grief. I still had the Picasa albums... and so what if they weren't the real high quality? I wasn't doing anything with them anyways. Sad but true. I'd love to hear what the rest of the world thinks on this whole conundrum. So if you have something to say, say it!!


The Muse ... said...

Though I don't dispute with any of what your post says - I did realize so myself ...but I turned all those memories into a running screen saver so I see those memories in moving form practically everyday. That made me and my brother want to digitize our childhood memory and so I again see those moments every day!

Anonymous said...

It is probably not just about photographs - Online news/Newspaper, Kindle/Books, typing/hand writing. These are the times of exponential changes. When the expectation is to evolve with the world, some things are lost and some things are gained.

Jaya said...

The Muse-> That's a wonderful idea.. It eliminates the need to actually go to the folder and hit the slideshow and all that. There's a bit of a problem there though. I have over 15GB of photos. And so to clear my computer, I've had to outsource them to an external hard drive. Hmph. I am glad you have solved the conundrum to your satisfaction though! Thanks n keep visiting! :)

Anon-> Actually with respect to e-newspapers and ebooks and all, I think there is more gained than lost. the physical space to store everything when they are just online is next to nothing + all those trees saved and all that. But yes, I do get your point. It's the age old adage. You need to lose something to gain something else. Thanks for the comment and keep visiting!

Anonymous said...

This is one of the most interesting debate one can have nowadays. I am a passionate photographer/printer. My personal definition of photography is the following: "Photography is the materialisation in an object, of the conjugation of my interpretation of the real world and the fascination it triggers. It is a piece of dream you can see and touch". In this digital era, one has to take extra care to value the archivability of the images. The digital images are not photographs to me, they are "digital negatives". It only becomes a photograph after it is printed on a media and seen under a decent lighting. Most of the people do not care about this, and even loose their images sometimes ... those would probably have lost their film negs too anyway. Digital photograpy is good for two reasons in my opinion: first it gives photography its real place, like photography gave painting its real place. Second, it allows you to progress faster in your art, as the cycle time between shot, inspection and second shot is shorter. On the other hand, if you are a classical film photographer, you have to build a whole new experience using photoshop or alike. And that's not trivial at all if you're perfectionnist. Finally you can combine the best of both worlds, take digital pictures, work on them, and print them on 19th century processes (mostly called alternative photography (.com) with an unsurpassed archivability of maybe 1000 years (for some processes). As for everything else, the real kick of things is in the last percent of perfection. This is what passion is about, this is what some passionnate photographers can run after.
That's more or less clearly what I tend to think for the time being.
Philippe Monnoyer - Finland

Jane said...

Though I agree with some of what you and Anonymous said (a picture is not really a picture until it is printed and viewed in the light), I have to confess, I didn't even own a camera of my own until the digital age! Why? Because wasting expensive film trying to learn to take good pictures just violated my sense of frugality. Instead I let my hubby take most of the pictures and only occasionally borrowed 'his' camera when I wanted to take pics and he wasn't available to do it for me.

It was only when he bought a new digital camera and gave me his old one that I finally learned to take really good pictures. I too hate the tedious part of sorting, deleting, cropping, fixing red-eye, etc., things I NEVER even though of doing with printed pics, but having the ability to take as many as I want and never feeling wasteful is worth it to me.

The other reason I love digital photography is that it allows me to keep up with friends and family members with little effort. Well little effort on their part. My youngest daughter (she is 21) is so busy in her life that I rarely talk to her and see her even less. However, I have some idea what is going on in her life from her Facebook pictures and their captions. Though it is not her intention, the pics are a photo essay of her life. Sometimes, as a a mom, I cringe when I see them, but at least I know where she is in her life in a way that her words (or the lack of most of the time) would not tell me.

So, if a picture really is worth a thousand words, then a digital diary of my daughter's life is priceless!

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