Why Printed Photographs Are Still Important

Picture yourself when you're getting old,
Sat by the fireside a-pondering on,
Picture book, pictures of your mama,
taken by your papa a long time ago.
Picture book, of people with each other,
to prove they love each other a long time ago.

-- "Picture Book," The Kinks

Think about where you put things that are most special to you… maybe it’s a seashell from a special beach getaway, your ribbons and trophies from wins at horse shows, a drawing gifted by a child, or–the obvious focus of this post–a treasured photo. We’ll stick it to the refrigerator, hang them up on the wall, or position it on a shelf where we’ll get to see it every day, right? (Or maybe you’ll short on space, like I am in my less-than-1000 square foot house, and have to pick and choose what gets featured and what goes in storage!)

So, why should images that you receive as digital files be left to sit on hard drives and USB sticks? Maybe you’ve at least set one as your phone background, or as a profile/cover image on social media. Our constant connectivity, and the ease of transmitting digital images, means that we can share them almost instantly with anyone the world over. And that’s a good thing! Friends and loved ones can connect with each other’s lives, no matter how far apart they may be. (Can you imagine how much more distant we might have seemed from each other, during the coronavirus shutdowns, if we didn’t have the internet?? Yikes–maybe let’s don’t.)

But when it comes to social media, you can’t consider it a permanent archive of content; your account could get hacked or shut down, or the entire site could go defunct, like AIM and Google+. Keeping an image in your camera roll on your smartphone, or on your computer’s hard drive, is one way to maintain it–but, from an archivist’s viewpoint, not a guarantee of permanence either. Hard drives can crash, and phones can be lost. And really, how often do we go back through all the files and folders on our devices and view every single picture we might have on there? I know I have to make a conscious effort to go through saved photos on my hard drive, and even that that’s maybe every few months.

Contrast that to a physical photograph. You can look at it every time you want to be reminded of what’s in it. And, you can keep it someplace prominent where you’re able to look at it, without needing a wireless connection or the need for a battery. Photographs that are meaningful to us have immeasurable value beyond being just a piece of paper (or pixels on a screen), because they help us define ourselves, and establish connections with loved ones past and present.

So, yes, this where I talk about those photos that are meaningful to me. Those of you who might have lost someone dear to you know that there’s no such thing as too many photos of him or her… well, that’s what it’s like for me with photos of my dad. He died in a plane crash when I was 16, and though I have digital images of him saved on my computer, the ones I see every day are these two that I have on my bookshelf.

“Ok, Caitlin, that’s a nice story and all, but I don’t know where to print my pictures,” you might say. You see, everything I said above is precisely why I decided to begin including prints and other products with my photosession offerings this year, both for a la carte purchases, and included as part of your session. Prints can be ordered right from your online gallery; once you pick your favorites, I take care of the rest for you.

You’ve taken the time and gone through the effort to hire me, and show up for your photosession–I felt like only giving you a digital download would be selling you short. In return for your investment in me, I’ve taken the time to locate the highest quality prints to offer you, so you can enjoy your images both on-screen, and in art that can decorate the walls of your home.

I’ll talk more about why it’s worth it to purchase intentionally-made and archival-quality prints in a later post, using an example from one of my own wedding photos (!).

What do you think? What has your experience been with your own photographs? How do you feel about images being treated as physical heirlooms, versus (often) invisible but easily duplicated and transmitted files?

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