I was reading Karen Walrond’s post on her blog Chookooloonks about how the demise of Kodak has her thinking about printed photos. Karen wonders if photo albums and printed pictures are disappearing. She asks if our kids think of photos as only temporary in nature. (BTW, if you ever want to meet a truly beautiful human being, inside and out, you should read Karen's blog on a regular basis.)

Karen’s well written thoughts have touched on an issue that has been on my mind for the last couple of years. What to do with all of the images that I create? How do I ensure that they are around for a long time? As a photographer, I see myself as part artist and part recorder of events, places, and people that are a part of my family’s life. In that sense, my images are important to me and hopefully to future generations of my family.

With film, we can count on the fact that we have printed images and negatives that are physical. A lighting strike is not likely to suddenly wipe out a lifetime worth of our photographic work when we have negatives and photos safely tucked away. I have many times, seen disaster survivors on television, holding with all of their might onto the family’s photo album. Sometimes they are shown picking through rubble, collecting framed photographs. These photos represent the precious memories of generations of friends and family. I know that if I were to wake up to find my home on fire, I would grab my family, my pets, and my photos… in that order. Everything else can be replaced. Not so with the photos.

In this age of digital photography, when every cell phone takes a decent picture, how do we safeguard our family’s collective memories? Certainly, we want to keep the electronic photo files safe and secure. We should save them on backup drives or in the “Cloud” as a form of insurance, in the event that something happens to our primary storage (probably our computer’s hard drive.) One power surge, lightning strike, or hardware failure won’t wipe us out if we have a solid back up policy.

However, having backups of our image files is only a short to medium term solution to the problem. What will we do when technology changes and hard drives and CD/DVD storage are no longer an option? Eventually they will go the way of the tape drive, floppies and zip drives. Keeping up with technology is going to forever be a thorn in the photographer’s side. Just around the corner, the next generation of computers won’t have hard drives or CD/DVD drives. Some computers have already replaced the hard drive with a solid state chip.
We can move to the cloud! Sure, store all of your images online and let some service provider worry about the back up of your images. You may already have your images stored on the cloud. Do you use Flikr? If you do, then you are using the cloud to store your photos. Actually, this is not a bad idea short to medium term. Long term, the cloud can be a problem, because eventually, you will no longer be around to pay the cloud service provider and your images will simply go away or you will lose access to them.

So what is the answer?

For me, the answer is to turn back the clock and forget about modern storage technology. I print my photos. Ok, I don’t print them all, but I do print the best of my images, the ones that I want to be around for a long time. I print my photos in two different formats. The first is the traditional photographic print. Sometimes, I use my own printer and sometimes I use a photo printing service. Once I print them, I place them in frames around the house or put them into a file for long term storage. When I get tired of looking at a framed photo, I simply replace the photo with a new one and reuse the frame.

Of course, with printed photos, you still have the ability to store them in photo albums. I don’t, but that is a personal choice of mine. If I had young children at home, I could see myself using photo albums as a fun project for the kids. They could be a great way for the kids to record their own memories.

The second print format for me is the printed photo book. I’ve written about creating photo books in the past. I think they are a fantastic way to share your best images with friends and family as well as a perfect means of long term storage. What is as long lasting as a book? Not many things are. I hope that generations from now, some child will get a thrill out of seeing a book filled with his great great-grandfather’s photographs.
Currently, I make photo books for many reasons. I print an annual “best of the Year” book. I create destination vacation books, ordering a copy for every family that participated. I also like to make special occasion books. My parents recently celebrated their 50th anniversary and I created a book to mark the momentous event, making copies for my parents, myself and my brother and sister.

The point of all of this is that you need to keep printing photographs. Don’t become lulled into thinking that keeping your memories on your computer or your phone means that they will be around forever. If you want your photos to be available for the next generation to enjoy…. Print them out.

Really… what are you waiting for? Go get started.

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