I have photographs, many of them. Some are in old, dusty albums that sit on a shelf until I deem them worthy again. Some are printed out in envelopes, and under papers, and stuck in books as markers. Some are on my external hard drive, thousands and thousands of them from years of taking digital pictures with various devices. But the vast majority of the photographs I have taken over the past two years live on my phone, in folders I put together in a hodgepodge fashion. And I have absolutely no idea what I will eventually do with all of them.
It used to be that photographs were rare because of the time it took to set up the camera, to take them, and to get them developed. I recall waiting in line at the pharmacy while the men in white behind the counter flipped through folders to find those gems from family vacations, from family weddings, and from family reunions. Back then photographs were all about family.
Now we take pictures of our food and post them to Facebook. Just because. Now we take a million selfies and utilize something called duck face. Just because. Now, just because we can, we take more pictures than a few, and we share them with just about everybody. I was talking with someone the other day about their family and they started to tell me something about their life, and I realized I already knew it. Because I had seen all of their pictures on Facebook, because I had seen it all chronicled on Instagram, because I had the type of access absolutely no one had when I was growing up.
And we don’t develop anything anymore. We don’t have to. We probably end up “trashing” more pictures than we keep, because we can. Because in this world where everything needs to be perfect, or as close to perfect as possible, why keep photographs we don’t absolutely love? I remember probably about 10 Christmases ago, before we got a digital camera, we took about a roll and a half of holiday photos because we hoped that when we got them developed at least one would be usable. We had absolutely no clue what any of them looked like when we took them. Then, when they came back we laughed our asses off because so many of them were so useless.
But that was the glory of the non-digital age. Now we are raising children who have to see every single picture we take and who veto any that they don’t like. The second the picture is on our phones we can manipulate them and turn them into masterpieces that would have taken true professionals to achieve even fifteen years ago. With all these photo editing apps it’s crazy what a picture can end up looking like when we are done with it. All the spontaneity has been sucked out of the process.
Don’t even get me started on Snapchat.
My point is that photographs used to be treasured for their rarity. When asked the question of the one thing we would save in the event of our house burning down, the answer used to be unequivocally the photo albums. Because those were our memories, our precious links to the events chronicled on their glossy pages. But what millennials have physical photo albums anymore? Maybe some were passed down through their families, but more often than not they’re like me. All of their photos are in their phones, decorating their Facebook pages, and being used as wallpaper for their tablets.
A photograph is no longer special because we have been saturated with our own pictures for so long now. And the adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words” is simply no longer true. Because we now have a thousand pictures where there used to be just words, and they just don’t say as much.