“The digital camera is a great invention because it allows us to reminisce. Instantly.” – Demetri Martin
Recently, I went on a wine tour in British Columbia’s Cowichan Valley with my boyfriend Ryan and our good friends, Kate and Nick. We had a great time, and we happily snapped photos away indiscriminately with my brand new fancy camera, a Nikon D3000 that Ryan got me as an early birthday present. All in all, we got about a hundred pictures, and a lot of them actually turned out pretty good. After we got home, I promptly uploaded the photos to my laptop, selected my favourites, and made a Facebook album that same afternoon.
It struck me, though, that before the effects of the wine had even worn off, I had already documented our little excursion and displayed the images online…but why? Photographic mementos? Exhibitionism? Nostalgia? (Can you be nostalgic for something that happened today? “Awwwh, remember that time we went on a wine tour, two hours ago?”) The comedian Demetri Martin whom I quote in the epigraph gestures at digital technology’s ellipsis of time between the event, the record, and reflection on the event via the record. These days, the entire process can occur basically simultaneously.
On the one hand, we live in a time when you can easily and copiously capture images — even cell phones have cameras now — and we have bypassed the development process by taking film out of the equation completely, so the pictures are available immediately. On the other hand, these images ironically also have a new fragility as digital photography and electronic storage are constantly being upgraded (with their precursors being rendered obsolete). As technology hurtles forward, it leaves a wake of outdated models to evanescence behind it.
There is something to be said for the hard copy. I remember leafing through my late grandmother’s brittle, yellowed black and white photographs of distant relatives gazing, unsmiling, into the camera lens. There is something so real and haunting about these records of the past that have themselves become artifacts — material objects passing through the years, marking even more palpably through their own aging the temporal distance between myself and that moment frozen in time. There is something markedly different about real photographs, something about the physicality of an object that would have hung on the wall in my grandmother’s house, that still bears my grandmother’s invisible finger prints.
And what of posterity? If my grandchildren won’t have a box of old pictures to poke through, will they have anything? Will I pass down my photographic legacy on a hard drive? Or some as-yet-unthought-of device that will store all of the images, converted many times over?
I’m sure I’m not the first to observe the paradox of how it is precisely the speed of technology’s advances in digital photography that also puts digital images in peril in the long term; however, what I would like to posit, uniquely, I hope, is the question: what does this mean for the future of nostalgia? If we are always looking forward, projecting toward the next electronic advancement, will we lose our ability to look back?
Hopefully, Facebook isn’t the new steward of our memories. If it is, then maybe instant reflection is tantamount to forgetting. If we’re relying on social networking sites to archive our photos, our records may prove as ephemeral as the moments they pixelated.
But who knows? Maybe an intangible location is the safest storage space of all. Maybe, instead of disappearing, our images will be carried into perpetuity, immortalized, in the ghostly ether of the Internet.
“Old Photos” firstname.lastname@example.org. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.
“Day 94: iPad app “Flickpad” Chad Podoski @ Flickr.com. Creative commons. Some Rights Reserved.
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