One day this past week, I pulled out the drawer where I keep our family videos of Christmases past. I shoved one into the VCR (fortunately we have a VCR drive on our DVD machine) and turned it on. The one I chose to watch was nearly 20 years ago. It was in remarkably good condition. My sons were small and full of glee over the holiday preparations.
My parents visited my family that year and I have video of them handing out the gifts they had packed into their suitcase to three excited little boys. My mother-in-law, who was still living then, was there too at our caroling party cuddling my youngest in her arms. And my cousin’s son, who was like a big brother to my sons and who is no longer living, made an appearance to help my husband set up the toy train. I was more captivated by our homemade video than any movie I’ve seen all year. I’ll bet many of you are taking photos and videos of your family and this year’s holiday festivities. Recording these visual memories takes many forms these days,–with cameras, phones, tablets or who knows what else. I still chuckle whenever I see someone holding up a tablet to capture an image. But I must confess, the quality of some of these devices is pretty amazing. However, what happens to all those pictures and videos once they have been stored on the device’s memory card? Is your memory permanent or does it become lost somewhere in your personal cyberspace? Will anyone else years from now be able to retrieve it should they want to see how your family celebrated the holidays?
The practice of taking ‘snapshots’ came into popularity during the early 1900s when Kodak introduced its first Brownie camera which sold for $1. A roll of film was 15 cents. For the first time, according to Kodak history, “the hobby of photography was within the financial reach of virtually everyone.” As wages rose during the 1920s, snapshot photography became more and more part of American daily life. Smaller cameras and better film allowed people to capture a life that was full of motion. By the 1950s, snapshots became even easier to take when Kodak’s first plastic Brownie camera came onto the market. These were even smaller versions of Kodak’s original box cameras and far easier to tote along to parties, on vacations or to keep handy around the house.
The Brownie Bullet was a cube-shaped camera made of molded Bakelite plastic with a simple lens and shutter release whose dimensions were just a little larger than the 127 sized roll film loaded inside. This was my very first camera. Mine was the Brownie Holiday model. I still have it and all of the nearly square format black and white snapshots that I took with it. My earliest photos are now stored in what preceded today’s ‘memory card’–a photo album. I can pull it off the shelf, turn through the pages and re-live those days of my childhood through the photos affixed there to the page with little black paper corners.
Fast forward to today. Film has almost disappeared although some is still available. Cameras have taken new forms, some not even resembling a ‘traditional’ camera. Photo albums are rapidly being replaced by on-line versions where thousands of images can be simply dumped or neatly arranged and viewed on TVs, computer screens, phones or whatever. But in 20, 30, 40 years and beyond, will you, your progeny or historians be able to access these images so that you or they can get a glimpse of how we lived our lives and celebrated holidays together? It’s a question that I constantly ask myself and my studio clients. I suggest to all my friends and professional clients that they make prints of their personal pictures, especially the ones that they love the most. I also strongly urge everyone to download your images onto a back-up external hard drive and/or CD. Since starting to shoot digitally, I make two copies of both my personal and professional images on archival quality CDs. Of course, CDs no longer guarantee that you’ll have access to them in the future. Some Apple computer products, for example, no longer come with CD drives.
At least with printed copies of your pictures you’ll have them later. I have never understood professional photographers, or amateur ones for that matter, who leave their images only in digital format. I have never sold my professional images only in that format, even though I’ve had plenty of requests to do so, because I think it’s a disservice to both my client and my work. It’s the same for your personal snapshots and your videos as well. In some ways, it’s even more important that you make prints of those images captured during the holidays and at other special times of the year because only you have them. They’re your personal memories recorded to recall visually the wonderful times you shared with family and friends.
My New Year’s wish is for you to preserve and protect your personal photos and videos. Please, make a resolution to print those images as well as download them. Put them in an album or shoe box or wherever it is you like to keep your most valuable documents so that years from now you too can look back and fondly remember these holidays.