photo courtesy Beth Chucker
I've already posted about three facets of digital photography that are greatly impacting how we make pictures, today; that the entire process or making and sharing picture is immediate, that it comes attached to a sophisticated distribution system and that cameras are simply everywhere. Now, I want to consider how a photograph itself is no longer tied to a physical object.
Think for a moment about the fact that a photograph once need to be imprinted on a physical surface in order to be shared. Sometimes you even got “double prints” so you could share it more! The contemporary photo is reproduced instantly and ad infinitum, from context to context. Once, when families gathered, we would go to the shelf and pull out one of the weighty tomes of photographs documenting the history of our times together. Huddled around the book, we'd reminisce together about terrible fashion choices and family members no longer with us. Now, the labored over, bound album has been all but replaced with an intangible, digital slideshow. In fact, rarely seen in any circumstance, are the bent cornered snapshot, the discolored Polaroid, the wear worn artifacts which allow us to hold memory in our hands.
The digital family album has many benefits. The obvious one being that, they can connect families whose members may be spread across continents or are otherwise unable to physically connect. (Also, a tremendous benefit is not having the chemical waste from darkroom chemistry, yuk!) Yet, while mother and daughter may be looking at the same images, each looks at them in their own individual viewing setting. The reminiscing now takes form of individually written comments. This not a replacement for the collective experience created when a physical image is shared among a group, but something different entirely. In their digital incarnation photographs are beginning to loose a purpose they long served. Photography worked as a sort of magical relic maker, turning a fleeting moment into an object, which could contain and preserve a memory. As the physical-ness of the photograph slips away, they becoming less effective as momento mori and function more as constant form of reportage on a life as it happens.
A collective focus on the present tense could indicate an existentialist enlightenment but a lack of ability or willingness to contemplate ones own mortality.