Why bother to make prints of your photographs? Perhaps your great-grandchildren may want to know what you looked like. The two photographs here were made about 150 years ago.
Both are my relatives, but the child’s identity is unknown. But still, we have her photograph and you can tell a lot by looking at it. She was very young and pretty. She was also not alive when this photo was made. I’m guessing at this, but I have evidence to back up my theory. First, photography was not widely available in the mid-1800s, and often a child died before a photo was made. So the family would send for a photographer to come quickly and make a keepsake memory photograph. This was a common practice because many children died very young due to the lack of cures for things like typhoid, yellow fever, and scarlet fever. Lastly, upon careful examination, you can see what appears to be a man’s arm holding the child in an upright position. As bizarre as this seems, it did happen often 150 years ago. Just a theory, but I’m sticking to it.
The other photograph is of my great-great-grandfather. Regardless of my version of the child’s story, the point is, after 150 years I have photographs of my family, and that’s one reason making prints is important.
Today everybody is a photographer and photographs are widely available and that’s good. But what we are doing, or more precisely not doing with our photos troubles me. What the two photos here prove is that a photo can last at least 150 years and probably much longer if copied. And, they are easy to access; no device necessary and no code to remember.
Today there are millions of photos being made every day. Anybody with a cell phone can make an almost unlimited number of photographs and often of important events. For example: a child’s first birthday, or old friends reuniting, or family dinners. This is great and it makes me happy that so many of us see the value of keeping memories alive.
A few years ago I celebrated my 70th birthday with a party. Two family members made photos, but for a couple of months I got zero prints of this special day. Why? Over several years, both had taken hundreds of photos without removing any from their cameras. My birthday photos were in there somewhere, but neither could easily extract my photos from the many hundreds they had stored in their camera. To get my photos, they had to deal with all those stored photos. Are you getting the point? After a lot of work and a little reminding, I did get a few photos, thanks guys.
But what happens to most of those photos people snap off day after day? Many never leave the phone or camera, or they go into the cloud for storage. That’s OK for the moment, and it’s so easy to do. But will that one-year-old be able to see herself as a one-year-old, when she’s 21? Where will she look for that memory? Will someone still have an access code, or even remember that that photo was made? That phone will be long gone. The access code to the cloud will be where? I don’t think anyone knows for sure. I hope and believe most of those images will still be around in some form of media that we cannot even imagine today. I am confident that technology will be available to keep all those thousands of images everyone is compiling. I just hope there is an easy method for pulling up specific moments recorded now, when you want them 20 years from now. It’s our ability to access those special moments quickly and easily that make me worry. What will happen to those extra special moments, those once in a lifetime photos; those first birthdays, that image of you in cap and gown that I am most concerned about.
I have a suggestion. Prints, prints, prints! Get those special moments on paper. Purchase those prints right online without getting out of your house. Or, take that chip, or camera, to your local drugstore. Get prints made. They are inexpensive and easy to store. Just put them into that special drawer (or shoebox) where you put things like photos, cards, and letters; things you highly value, but don’t look at often. You can get at them almost instantly and they’ll be around for many years. And do not forget to put the date and names on the back. Or, what the heck, hang a couple on the wall or put them in an album.
Rest assured I do follow my own advice. I have several albums filled with adventurous hikes with family and, of course, lots of grandchildren photos. Many family group photos and individual photos of each grandchild are framed and hung in my studio. To make sure my grandchildren will never forget what I look like, even long after I’m gone, I had two life-size prints made of myself. I keep these hung on our deck where they scare away flies, mosquitoes, and other pests when we’re entertaining guest or dining outside.
Rod Hunter lives in East Bend and is an avid hiker, biker, photographer and nature lover. He is the past state chairman of the Sierra Club of NC. He volunteers as a court appointed children’s advocate for children in foster care and with Cancer Services Inc. He is a two-time cancer survivor. He has backpacked in Alaska, Arizona, California, Utah, Oregon, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Georgia, Virginia, and of course North Carolina.