Old photographs, new technology — the pluses and minuses of going digital

PanAm

Photographs have been on my mind lately.  Earlier this summer, my husband and his sisters started the process of getting old negatives and slides transferred to digital files.  In the course of doing so, they’ve found all kinds of family pictures that haven’t seen the light of day for decades.

And in the course of making a memorial website for my mother-in-law Joan, we’ve been reviewing all sorts of photos from her life.  We’ve seen her as a young girl, as a beautiful bride, as a stylish traveler in the terrific photo above (PanAm Airlines!).

Photos mean a lot, no doubt about that.

Since getting a digital camera and a Smartphone, I never seem to develop actual prints anymore.  I used to order some periodically and send them to Joan, who I knew liked to have actual hard copies of snapshots of the grandsons to share around (I wish I had sent her a lot more than I did).  But most of the photos that I snap now end up on Google or on the computer.

And I have mixed feelings about all of this.

When you have young kids, a digital camera is a super thing.  You can instantly assess a family grouping and see whether everyone is smiling, whether anyone is looking down.  When the boys were first crawling and walking, they’d move so fast that sometimes they would be out of the shot before I knew it; with a digital camera, I knew to take another one.  And it’s certainly less expensive than developing a roll of film that may contain a bunch of duds.  You can also share digital photos so very easily (this blog post is proof of that).

And yet there’s something about holding old photographs that is romantic in the broadest sense.  Those black and white photos with the white scalloped edges, the Polaroids, the small square color photos from the 60s and 70s where the color seems slightly off — they are a past you can hold.   Somehow it is nice for these photos to take up actual space, to exist on their own independent of technology.  It’s almost a spiritual experience to leaf through an old album, or to turn over an old snapshot and see an inscription like Christmas 1944 written in old-fashioned cursive on the back.

Easter 1974

My family on Easter, 1974. A tie like that needs to be recorded for the ages.

And while on the one hand, technology helps us preserve photographs for the future, I am all too aware of my tendency to leave photos languishing by the hundreds on the computer, where they don’t see the light of day.  I always think,  “Oh, I’ll make an album with those someday,” and then I never do.  Will members of my family even find these photos in the future?  Will they even know of their existence if they are not sitting in a box or album somewhere?

I don’t want to turn the clock back to the time without digital cameras, for sure. But have we lost something in the process of making the shift from film to digital?   I think so, and I’d love to find a way to get it back.

What about you?  How do you handle family photos?  Any thoughts on the digital vs. film debate?

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