Monday, February 17, 2014

Photography, Past, Present, and Future

Were the past 50 years a photographic blip?

I have 1 photograph of my great-grandfather as a child. I've seen maybe a dozen pictures of my grandmother as a child. There are several photo albums full of hundreds of pictures of my dad as a child. There are probably thousands of photographs of me as a child.

I've seen dozens of photographs of my great-grandfather as an adult. Hundreds of photographs of my grandmother as an adult. Hundreds of photographs of my dad as an adult. A handful of photographs of me as an adult.

When I say "photographs," I'm talking about physical, hard copy photographs. The kind of thing that will last through the fast-moving, planned obsolescence of modern technology. My great-grandfather's life saw the gradual transition from occasional, complicated, special-event, professional photography to inexpensive, omnipresent, personal photography, and the attendant increase in pictures. My life saw the transition from inexpensive, omnipresent, personal film photography to inexpensive, more-than-omnipresent personal digital photography, and the attendant decrease in physical photographs.

It's not like there aren't any photographs of Joseph Mulcahy as a child. There's this one. And it's not like there aren't any pictures of me as an adult.  There are 7 framed photographs of me in my apartment. 6 are from my wedding day. (The 7th is from a friend's wedding.) Plus, we have a few photo albums. At the end of 2011, I made a point of having prints made of good, representative pictures from the year, which might have been a dozen pictures or so. I haven't yet done the same for 2012 or 2013. I did have prints made of our honeymoon to St. Lucia, and made up a photo book of pictures from our recent trip to Ireland.

In other words, if you look past my unusual conscientiousness in 2011, the physical photographs of me and my husband as adults represent almost exclusively special occasions. Kind of like the extant photographs from c. 1900, right?

I firmly believe that in 100 years, the digital photographs that currently overload our hard drives and are posted to the internet ad nauseum will not have survived. Many photographs on paper won't have, either, but they've got a better chance. Our descendants will find themselves looking at a handful of special-occasion photographs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries; an unmanageable glut of unlabeled photographs from the mid and late 20th century; and a handful of special-occasion photographs from the 21st century and beyond.

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