Photographs and Memories

21 09 2010

Many years ago, Ringo Starr sang some of the most poignant words ever penned regarding the photographic legacies of those we love.

Every time I see your face,
It reminds me of the places we used to go
But all I’ve got is a photograph,
And I realize you’re not coming back anymore

And while much has changed in photography in the last 15 years, it is those old photos that stir the pot of memories. In an instant we can be transported to a bygone era, time travelers on a magic 5X7 carpet ride.

I recently came to grips with the fact that much of my photographic history now lies buried in a central Florida landfill. While helping pack my parents for their move to an independent living center, I had hoped to find all those pics from the 1960s and 1970s, my wonder years. But, alas, Dad had pitched nearly all of them long ago.

I was heartbroken. Sure, I have memories, but memories fade. I’d like to be able to touch them. Maybe that’s why I am so obsessive about making photographic documentation of every single thing my family does. I want my kids to have a complete record of their own wonder years, as well as all of the people who played roles big and small.

It was about 15 years ago that photography endured a major paradigm shift, as we began the transition from film to digital. I was one of the first to make that jump (with my $600 Casio that produced snapshots in blazing 320X240 resolution (that’s a whopping 0.07 megapixels!). We began storing our pics electronically, on hard drives and later jump drives, and then at online portals like Picasa, Snapfish, Flickr and Smugmug.

And it was about this same time that Kodak, that stalwart of American companies, began its precipitous slide down the snow-covered hill of obsolescence.

Rochester NY has never been the same.

But up from the ashes the Phoenix doth fly. And Kodak is unfurling its wings as it seeks to reinvent itself in the digital era. For they have finally realized that it never really was about the film they once sold, but rather the photo paper. You see, people still like to handle photographs. Perhaps not as much as we once did (when prints and slides were the only options), but we still like them. We just print more selectively.

So I lift my lens to Kodak for installing 100,000 self-service kiosks around the world, and also for its new photo collage option coming this winter. Customers will be able to create and print elaborate montages of their favorite pics using templates on the machine. Rather than having to cut and mount various scrapbook prints, Kodak is taking the drudgery out of the process and making it simple.

All you have to do is hang it.

Now to be honest, I doubt I will use the service, but my kids might. I am way too fussy with my photography to allow a machine to automatically (and perhaps mercilessly) crop my photos. Every pixel in my image is there for a reason, and I don’t appreciate it when half of a foot or hand has been indiscriminately chopped. And if I need to fix or embellish anything, there’s always Photoshop.

But I suspect Kodak is going to have a hit on its hands here. Even though we do not run to photo labs anymore to get a print of every last image captured, we still like hold pictures in our hands. This is a tactile experience that computer monitor or iPhone can come close to replicating.

Because at the end of the day, all we really have is a photograph. And in many cases, those people and places aren’t coming back anymore.

Dr “f2.8 and ISO100” Gerlich


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