After my Grandpa passed away this past New Year’s Eve, the search began for photos to reminisce over and to use for the funeral. The process reminded me of how, several years ago I needed photos for my maternal grandmother’s funeral, and how frustrating it was to scroll endlessly through photos on files, phones, and social media platforms. I found it a draining process compared to the ease with which I flipped happily through family albums. When confronted with the contrast between searching for photos on a screen versus thumbing through tangible photos, I knew then that I wanted to ensure my most treasured memories would be in print form, not just stored on a device or platform.
But how to begin? Well, over the past few years I’ve developed strategies to help with photo organization and storage based on my years of experience as a wedding photographer. I even created a short course to help others tackle digital clutter. You can check out my Digital Declutter Mini Course HERE.
Today, however, I want to talk about the Power of Prints and why photographs in print have an inherent value. Let’s dive in.
- Prints are easy to pass on. If you’ve ever been given a shoebox of old photos passed down from a relative, or have gifted a photobook to a loved one, you know just how simple the process of hand-delivering or shipping photos can be. And the great thing is, no matter how mediums or devices change, a photo in your hands will always be an easy treasure to access. Just imagine 30 years from now, when our current social media platforms and devices are obsolete, and your children or grandchildren want to see photos from your youth or their childhood. Are we really going to expect that we can log in to old accounts or dust off clunky hard drives and find our photos? And even if we could, how mind-numbing will it be to have to scroll endlessly through thousands of digital files? I realize I paint an abysmal picture, but as we live in an era of digital hoarding, our cherished memories are going to be harder to access than a shoebox or collection of albums stored on a closet shelf. This is why printing off a small collection of photos even a few times a year can be a relatively simple solution. And if you’re wondering about whether to print off books or traditional prints, well, I go into more detail on the pros and cons of each in my Digital Declutter Mini Course.
2. Prints encourage us to practice PRESENCE. When we scroll through our devices, we often impatiently swipe from one photo to the next without much thought or consideration. However, when we sit with a photographic print, we are invited to use more of our senses. We can feel the sharp or bent edges of a print or page, run our fingers over the glossy or matte finish, turn the photo over to see if details have been added in someone’s personal hand, look at the details present in the image, observe the quality or age of the paper, even catch a whiff of the musty box it came from or the chemicals that were used to create the print. When more of our senses are engaged while viewing a photo, the more chances that image has to imprint on our memories and stay etched in our minds’ eye. Photographic prints be they in book form, hung on a wall, organized in an album, or loosely collected in a box are powerful in their ability to help us stop, use our senses, and memorize the details. There is a reverence that comes with looking at prints in person that does not translate to viewing images on screen, and the effects can linger for a lifetime.
3. Prints are the final step in an historic process. For most of the photograph’s history, the print has been an essential part of the process. Only in the past two decades has the photograph been able to skip a step and find its final form on-screen. But prior to this, the print was always a part of the photographic process.
When I think back to my first days in a darkroom in the early 00’s, I recall first taking my wound spool of film into a blackened out room where I would extract the film from its canister and slip it into a protective container. From there, the film would be exposed to a round of chemicals that would help develop the images and then stop the processing. Next they would be extracted and hung to dry. Only then could I cut my negatives, line them up to create a contact sheet, grab my loup with which to peer down at my images in closeup detail, and then mark which ones were acceptable for printing. Tedious work indeed. But that was only the beginning!
At this point, I would then take my selected negatives and slip one into an enlarger in the darkroom. The image would be projected downwards onto whichever type of photo paper I deemed fit for that specific image. Filters would be experimented with and knobs twisted to acquire just the right contrast and focus. When all was ready, I would set the timer and expose a fresh sheet of paper to the light and within seconds, an image I couldn’t even see would be burned onto the photo paper. Another round of adjustments would be made to test different variations. Eventually, the exposed sheets of paper would be slipped into a series of baths where chemicals would slosh over the still blank-looking paper. And finally, voila, an image would appear out of the vapours as if by sheer magic (which it really was!). After extracting the completed images from the final bath, I would lay them flat to dry or hang them in the amber light. Once the drying stage was complete I could take my photo out into the light of day to see whether or not the image was acceptable. More often than not, it was subpar, or another image needed to be chosen, and another round of experiments run through. The combined tedium and magic of it all was intoxicating. I suppose the pungent aroma of chemicals may have had a heady effect as well! But the print, when complete, when as perfected as much as I had patience for, was the zenith. While the photo had been there all along, from the moment I clicked the shutter to the moment the exposed photo paper had been dipped into its first in a line of baths, the print was the photograph finally come into the world. The print came after a long gestation, and there was an awe it carried with its physical manifestation.
By and large, we’ve lost this beauty of anticipation and process in the immediacy of the shoot-and-share era. Of course the new way carries a magic of its own, but when we print our photos, we become a part of an historic process. Sure, the photographic process has evolved, and the steps from image creation to printing may only mildly harken back to an earlier time, but when we create something that we can hold in our hands, even a digital print, we help to complete a full (and fulfilling) process. Holding something in our hands that has been created is a grounding and powerful experience that should not be lost.
I realize that I could easily come across as a dinosaur in my descriptions of the ‘long-lost print’, but I believe that if we imagined a future generation missing out on photos in print, we would mourn the loss of something truly special. Prints are part of a powerful legacy and are easier than ever to print and pass down.
If you want to learn more about getting your photos sorted, stored, and shared easily, click the link HERE for my Digital Declutter Mini Course.