There’s an ad currently airing on American television in which the main character tells the viewer to “Take pictures, lots of them. In 20 years, you’ll be glad you did.” Honestly, I can’t remember the advertiser, or much else about that ad, but that one line stuck with me. Maybe it’s because I’m a photographer and pictures are not only my livelihood, they are my life.
In reality, I think people are actually taking more pictures than ever before. Consider just how easy it is to record images on devices such as phones and tablets, let alone digital cameras. People are snapping pictures of themselves, their kids, their dogs, their food, whatever, every time you turn around. Just the other day, for instance, on my drive to Vancouver B.C., I watched in amusement as a couple, one-armed with a digital camera, the other with a phone on a ‘selfie stick’ struck a variety of stances in front of a bed of flowers planted in the color and shape of the Canadian flag. Their on camera antics were highly entertaining as I, and a long line of others, inched towards the border crossing in our cars.
So yes, people are undoubtedly taking more pictures than ever before. But it’s the second part of that advertising phrase that TK me. In 20 years, will the people who took those images, or their progeny be able to see those pictures, or even know where they to find them? It struck me because recently Photo Central, a photo supply store in Winnipeg, Manitoba, posted this image here onto their Facebook page.
They have a point, one that I hope everyone who clicks a camera or presses a phone will take to heart. I print all my own personal and professional digital images for myself and those of my clients. Because, as I so often explain to potential clients who say they only want ‘digital images’, I want them to have that image in 20, 30, 50 years or more down the road.
Photo Central’s picture drew my attention too because one of my brothers’ recently had been researching our family history on-line. He started it to determine whether or not one of relatives, James Crooks from North Carolina, fought with the Union forces at Gettysburg during the Civil War. He didn’t. During his hunt, he uncovered not only some new tidbits about the family–that some members served in the American Revolution for instance–but found some old photos of great, great, great (maybe another great in there) relatives. Like this one of Catharine Darr, who, according to the research done by my brother, was the mother-in-law of one David Crooks of Lincolnton, N.C. , our great, great-grandfather and the father of James, mentioned above.
It is he, who, according to family legend and my own father, told his son James when war between the states was imminent that “one day, these rivers will run with blood. When they do, you need to go North.” In 1864 at the age of 19 or 20, he signed up the 13th Tennessee Calvary Regiment. He may be one of those pictured in the reunion photos found on the regimental website. (I’d post one of the pictures here but the website strictly forbids copying them.) But I can show you the photo my brother found of Catharine Darr who lived from 1794-1888, was married to Jacob Barrier and was mother-in-law to David, father of James. Had this been an image taken with digital technology, we might not have this photograph.
My brother also found photos of the “Rock House” built by Adam Sprach Sr., our sixth great-grandfather. who was born in Pfaffenhofen, Germany in 1820 and came to the U.S. with his parents. They settled in North Carolina. In 1754, Adam moved near Bethabara, N.C. and built himself a sturdy house, seen here, of uncut stone, laid up without mortar, except for plastering inside. As you can see from the photos, there is a lower level beneath this one-story house.
According to my brother’s research, the house basement had an outside entrance so that during attacks, Sprach gathered his cows and drove them into the basement for protection. Each room also had loopholes, through which the defenders could fire. You can see in the pictures both the lower level door and loopholes in the walls. But if these photographs didn’t exist, we would see neither.
Then there’s the photo that I love best, the one of my own Grandfather Crooks’ sister, Katherine Crooks Moore. She was a music teacher and is shown in this wonderful old photograph from 1907 in a class portrait. I believe that she’s standing, fourth from the left on the back row. Don’t you wonder where they got all those guitars and mandolins? Particularly since instruments weren’t cheap or easy to come by in those days. I had never seen this photograph, or remember seeing one of my Grandfather’s sister before this one. It’s a delightful picture to have. I’m glad it survived.
Of course, my point is, that taking pictures is great. But whether it’s a snapshot done with one of your own devices, or a professional portrait created by someone like myself, without prints, the images you take today might not be around in 20 years. And it’s anyone’s guess whether they’ll be there in 100 years or more, like these of my own family. Prints offer you a glimpse into your personal past, they bring alive your history and they are, by and large, permanent. Digital images can be deleted, erased, lost in cyberspace, corrupted or become merely ‘inaccessible’. So take pictures, lots of them. But please, also be sure you have prints of at least the ones most important to you because one day, someone’s brother may want to look back and learn about your family history.