If you are anywhere near my age, you remember Instamatic and Polaroid cameras. Both required supplies—film cartridges and flashcubes for the Instamatic, and the packs of self-developing photos for the Polaroid. These supplies were kind of expensive, as was the developing cost of the film for the Instamatic. The cost of materials and developing meant that most people did not take photographs in a gratuitous, willy-nilly fashion. If the average person snapped a picture, it was a picture they really, really wanted.
In addition to the cost of developing film, there was the time factor. I believe most of the film I bought for my prized Instamatic was good for twenty-four pictures, so you had to take twenty-four photos, which would take a couple of weeks usually, then take the film to the drugstore or somewhere to submit it for development, then wait for the photos to come back—usually a week or so. You would open the envelope to see how your pictures turned out, or if they turned out at all. It was a big disappointment to try to capture some special moment on film just to discover a month later that the flash failed or something else went wrong. Polaroids had the advantage of producing a developed photo in just a few minutes, but then you just had the one small photo with no real way to reproduce or enlarge it. And self-developing photos went bad over time so they were far from being permanent.
Back in 1996 I was teaching at Texas A&M-Kingsville. Digital cameras for the average person were starting to become available but I was unimpressed. They produced small, low-resolution images and the cameras were expensive. One of my students was always talking to me about digital cameras and finally he bought one. I was still unimpressed and did not see much of a future for them. Yet another example of how wrong I can be sometimes!
It was only a couple of years later that digital cameras were much better and much cheaper. And now look at us—We take pictures of EVERYTHING. We share pictures instantly. We can easily edit our pictures to be just right. We can print our photos out at home or carry the card to town and have them printed right before our eyes. We do not even have to carry a camera these days as most cell phones have a really nice camera built right in…how handy is that?
The only problem is that photographs are suffering because of the “supply and demand” effect. Photos are now cheap and plentiful. Back in the day, you would write the date on the back, note the names of the people in the photo, and maybe write a sweet message to the recipient of the photo. You would put them in albums or scrapbooks so you could show them to others or look through them yourself. Who has time for that when you have hundreds or thousands of photos on your computer?
This cheapening of photos worries me. We have boxes of photographs from years past that we love looking through. Our kids get to see what we were like as kids and we get to see what our parents and grandparents looked like as kids. We can flip many of the photos over to read what was written on the back so we can get a little bit of the story. How will that work with digital photos? I know there are ways to attach notes to digital photos, but so far, I have not done very well at actually getting that done. One of my friends creates Snapfish photo journals on a regular basis. She tells me that she adds text for each photograph so there will be a story. Just because it is digital does not mean that it is quick-and-easy. She devotes a lot of time to working on her books. As a result of her work, her son will have a tangible record of his entire childhood.
Now I have just worked myself into a fit of guilt and panic. So many photos, so many memories, so little time! Do any of you have a method or solution you would to share?