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The Importance of a Printed Photograph

"If there are pictures that you really really care about then creating a physical instance is probably a good idea. Print them out, literally." Vint Cerf

This blog post has been a while coming. Mainly because of the complexities surrounding the topic, given that EVERYTHING these days is digital. But to be totally honest, it is because I’m pretty scared of writing it, as I myself need to action the advice I'm about to give you! As I'll explain shortly.

Recently I came across a quote from Vint Cerf, VP of Google and arguably one of the ‘Father’s of the Internet’, taken from a speech he made in 2015 at a conference in California.

In his presentation, he warned the 21st century was at risk of becoming a second "Dark Age" because so much of our lives is kept in digital format, and that future generations would have no record of these times because technology is advancing so quickly that old files will be inaccessible.

(For those of us unfamiliar with history, the first ‘dark age’ was the time in Britain between the 5th and 8th centuries about which time little is known).

He said, “If we don’t find a solution our 21st Century will be an information black hole. Future generations will wonder about us but they will have very great difficulty knowing about us.”

How absolutely terrifying is that? And in this day and age when we have access to so much information? But the reason I’m writing this blog post, is because of what he said next.

“If there are pictures that you really really care about then creating a physical instance is probably a good idea. Print them out, literally.”

For those of you that know me, I’m totally with him on that one. But aside from the impact that digitisation of data will have on the world as we know it, I think we need to look at his words and interpret them in a way that make sense to us in our own lives.

Forget that I’m a Professional Photographer for a bit.

I’m very lucky that I have a Baby Book. My mum, somehow managed to make time to collate photographs of my first few years together with little notes about my early years. This book is so precious to me now, especially as it’s the only record in the world of those moments.

So fast forward to when I had our boys; I was on mission to make them similar books for them. I was full of enthusiasm, O’s baby book is pretty reasonable. B’s is much lighter. I’m guessing part of that is that we have digital images on our phones to remember these times. On our smartphones; I’ll come back to this in a sec.

Last week, as part of my Professional Photographer's Licentiate preparations, I went back through my archive of digital images. I wanted to show the progression of my photography style, and as a bit of fun I went back to when I first started using a digital camera. I’m lucky that I have used the same brand of computers for almost 27 years now (thanks to some forward thinking by the Head of IT at my Secondary School!) so this data was still potentially compatible.

Once I’d found the right cables from the drawer of cables that my husband is constantly wanting to clear out, and had found the right adapters to fit these cables into the current generation of ports in my machine, the drive fired up. Suddenly endless photos from between 2003 and 2010 popped up in my finder, from Clubnights at University (I was the SU Photographer for a year back then), holidays, houseparties, friends’ babies, puppies, you name it. My family and friends are lucky, I’ve always been the one with the camera, so if they happen to ask about a particular holiday or event since 2003, there’s a chance I still have some photographs of it!

Now, where it starts to get a bit disorganised is when I started using a smartphone (see I didn’t digress too much). I’ve had quite a few of the Apple variety since 2013, and ever since, i’ve been unintentionally documenting our lives, little by little everyday. Granted they’re not the best quality and quite a few of them are out of focus, but they’re all precious reminders of little moments in our lives.

I think Mr Cerf would tell us that we are are relying far too much on this digital storage in our pockets. Dangerously so. Perhaps because it is so available to us. It is so easy just to buy extra storage now, a bigger phone, more space in the cloud. That seems like an easy painless solution to the pop ups that keep warning us that we're out of storage space. But the key problem that this is now causing is that the images that are dear to us are being lost in the crowd of other images that we aren't really that bothered about.

When was the last time you took a look at the camera roll on your smart phone, and deleted any images that you didn’t actually mean to keep? Looking at my phone now, I have 11,139 images on my camera roll. Seriously, who needs to carry around 11,139 photos in their pocket? And how many of those are not actually worth even looking at again? Erm, definitely not all 11,139 of them.

And that is just my personal footprint of digital images in my pocket.

But not just that that's the issue here. When was the last time you checked that you phone was actually auto backing up? Or you made a copy of your photo library onto your computer?

I’m a positive person, and part of the reason this blog has taken so long to write is that I didn’t want it to be all doom and gloom. I needed to offer a solution that we can all implement to help solve this problem.

So here’s what I believe we should all take from Mr Cerf’s warning. And it relates to all personal data, not just photographs.

Check your automated back ups are working correctly. Those you carry around everyday. Those you'd be lost without.

If you have important data on your home computer, get yourself an external hard drive and back the data up. You can get a drive pretty cheaply now. And put a note in your calendar to check it at least once a month. Then seriously look at backing the data up to an online system too. There are a number of companies who offer safe, secure and relatively inexpensive online backups that constantly run in the background of your machine, so you don’t even need to remember to run back ups.

Every few weeks, check through your phone and delete any images that you don’t actually want to keep. Then make sure you delete the deleted items folder too. Not only does this free up data for more photos in the future, but it means that the photos that you do want to keep aren’t buried amongst those that you don’t.

And my number one recommendation for each and every one of you that is reading this? Find a photo on your phone that you love. Go and print it out. On your home printer, in a store with a kiosk, or through an app such as TouchNote that makes pretty postcards for you. Print out a couple. Maybe pick up a frame too.

Then put these images on display in your home. If you want to keep it simple, stick them on the fridge.

Because as Mr Cerf knows, you never know how important that one printed photograph will become to our generations in the future.

With love,

Rachel x


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