Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Problem With Digital Photos

Don't get me wrong, the digital photography revolution is a beautiful thing. We can take as many pictures as we want without having to worry about development costs. We can keep millions of photos on a computer. Everyone in the world has a camera on their phone. It's great.

What mystifies me are things like Intsagram. Instagram photos always seem inherently pretentious to me. I mean, why take a perfectly good photo and pretend that you took it on a Polaroid and let it age and discolor for 30 years? Clearly you didn't because you just took it on your cellphone, uploaded it Facebook, and Polaroid doesn't make film anymore. You're not fooling anyone.

I got to wondering why it's popular enough to be worth $4 billion. For one thing, cell phones don't take the best photos. Anytime you can take a mistake and make it a choice, you make yourself look better. Take a bad cellphone photo and make it look like a bad vintage photo, and suddenly it's acceptable and arty.

I think there's more to it though. When you look through an old photo album, you're not only looking at an image of the past, but you're looking at an object from the past. The photo itself was developed years ago and handled by yourself as a child, your parent's when they were younger, or some beloved relative who's long dead. The physical object is a direct connection to another time. We lose that with digital photographs, unless we print them. But how often do we do that?

When you flip through your Facebook photos or look through the countless images on your computer, all you get is the image of the past. You can't touch something from that time. It's just electrons, magnetic impressions, and tiny marks on a metal disk. I think Instagram is an embodiment of the yearning to connect with our past or an attempt to fabricate that experience. Ironically it can only fail because it's still a digital image. It makes me wonder if film processing will make a comeback.

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In 1789, the governor of Australia granted land and some animals to James Ruse in an experiment to see how long it would take him to support himself. Within 15 months he had become self sufficient. The area is still known as Experiment Farm. This is my Experiment Farm to see how long it will take me to support myself by writing.