When my father passed almost 25 years ago, some of the keepsakes he had was a photo album and thousands of color slides that he shot over many decades. He was a good photographer but because he had to raise a family, photographed a lot of boring, cookie-cutter events that he would sell to the local paper if he was lucky. He also shot weddings and bar-mitzvahs. Those all saw the scrap heap without ever being viewed. What was left was friends, family and memories.
I once tortured my wife and made her sit through a viewing of the slides. I had set up the screen, turned on my dad's old projector and loaded them up. In all honesty, there wasn't enough wine in the house, or maybe the whole city, to get through all of them. But there were these shining moments within the 1000s of fairly mundane slides. Family long since passed, friends, and memories of some sort of event, be it a road trip or just a trip to get ice cream in our old jalopy Ford station wagon.
I paw through the photo album occasionally, probably when I am missing him, and the photos never fail to bring forth some sort of response or emotion from me. All black and white, almost all of them before I came along. It's a time machine of sorts.
In the last 12 months I shot over 10,000 photos. I know people that shoot many more than that as well. They're in digital format obviously because except for the occasional film enthusiast, everyone shoots in digital now. There's a lot of warmth, feeling, and even charm to shooting film, but just like CDs replacing vinyl, digital photography has replaced film for all practical matters.
So what are we going to hand down to our children and grandchildren? Our nieces and nephews?
Most people are one hard-drive or smart phone failure away from losing every photo they have ever taken. History being wiped out in an instant, never to be recovered.
I have a photo of my dad from 1930. He was five years old. It's really frayed, the paper yellowed, but it's him from 84 years ago. How many five year-olds that have their picture taken today will be able to leave that for their children in 84 years? I would bet that number would be in the 1/100ths of 1% at best.
I have no solution for our short-term hold on history. Maybe take a CD down to your local Walmart once a month and get cheap prints made or do like I, and many photographers do and not only vault your photos but back them up locally as well as to an offsite backup company?
It'll be a shame when the decades are erased by technology.