Posted by: kerryl29 | March 26, 2018

Beyond the Fleeting Moment

It’s been a bit more than two years since I mused about the gradual but undeniable disappearance of photographic prints.  Not only has nothing happened since then to change my view, the trend has, if anything, accelerated.  The maturity of the digital revolution, not only in the realm of photography but throughout most of civilization at this point, has more or less cemented all of this.  Most photographic prints that were made back in the film era took on the role that posting images on social media holds today:  the primary way to share images with others.  But even the other–much more limited form–of printmaking has dried up in recent years:  prints that are framed and put on (more or less) permanent display.  There is less of that now than at any point in my lifetime as fewer and fewer people even think of printing as something that could or should be done with photographs.  Depending on your view, this may be tragic or it may be long overdue, but either way, it is.

Lake Superior Shoreline black & white, Hurricane River Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

The biggest reason I find this a concern is that this trend has led–somewhat ironically–to a decreasing permanence to photographs, in both tangible and intangible senses.  The irony to the tangible aspect is that it’s never been easier to safely archive images than it is today.  Back in the film era, if something happened to the print, unless you had the negative (or slide) from which the print was made, you were out of luck.  Even if you did have it, the analog nature of film meant that the originals were prone to deterioration.  But strictly because of the more casual nature most people treat their digital assets (in fact, many people don’t even regard their images as assets at all), and the ease with which they can be discarded (just press a button and, presto, they’re gone!) means that for many of us, images have never been more impermanent.

Spruce Knob Sunrise, Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

As disturbing as that may be, I think it’s the intangible impermanence that’s most distressing, because of what images represent…or ought to represent, I’d argue.  I’ve mentioned previously that I regard images principally as memory stimulants.  When I see one of my images I’m invariably taken back to the moment the image was made and all of the sensory stimulation that implies.  I might–might–be able to return to that moment (and those sights, sounds, smells, physical feelings and thoughts) without that direct stimulation…but then again, I might not.

Virgin River Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah

The point is that the image conjures up more–so much more–than simply the scene itself.  And that’s why I think it’s important not only to retain so many of these images but actually view them from time to time.

Bahia Honda Rail Bridge at Sunset, Bahia Honda State Park, Bahia Honda Key, Florida

This “trick” works, potentially, with all images; they don’t have to be of a “fine art” (whatever that term really means) variety made with expensive photographic equipment.  There’s absolutely no reason why they can’t be quick snapshots produced with a phone.  It’s not even necessarily the content that matters; it’s the personal significance of what’s behind the content.  Regardless, the images must be viewable–and, in fact, viewed–to play this consequential (arguably critical) role.

Water Reeds, Beaver Lake, Jasper National Park, Alberta

And that’s where the matter of access becomes so important.  What I do periodically–once every few months, generally–is go to my website, where a vast repository of my image archive is stored, and select a gallery more or less randomly, spend a few minutes watching a slideshow of the images in that gallery, and let the memories wash over me.  It doesn’t take very long but the benefits are immeasurable.

Autumn Overlook at Sunset, Brown County State Park, Indiana

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Responses

  1. Such pretty motion-capturing! Feels like you’re there.

  2. I agree that it’s odd that even as images can be made to last, archived and organized more and more easily, they seem to pass through our lives faster and faster, sometimes with barely a ripple. I think it’s related to the incredible abundance of images and the sped-up pace of life. Your practice of periodically just sitting and enjoying your images sounds very sane, like an anchor into experience.

    • Yeah, it’s ironic–bordering on paradoxical–that something (archiving) that’s plainly easier than ever seems to be done so rarely. And I think your explanation for this phenomenon is dead on.

  3. Well said. Cherish the photographic gateway to our memories, and back-up the digital archives. M 🙂

    • Thanks…and great advice!

  4. Hey Kerry! This was so well written and I couldn’t agree more with your viewpoint. I too review my archives. Pretty often actually. Sometimes for inspiration, sometimes to bring back memories. I store my photos by category in an outline format and randomly pick one category from time to time. Whether it is a scenic group or a floral study or machinery of some sort, every photo takes me back to that particular place in time. I too have seen the decline in desires for folks to possess a print framed or not. In fact one of my friends threw in the towel on wedding photography mainly because the “bridezillas” as she put it, only wanted digital copies. As you said in more words or less, in this sped up world we live in, a by-product of the photo taking/making experience has taken on a whole new aspect…for better or worse.
    If I may with your permission, I would like to save this post in some way to read from time to time.
    David

    • Thanks, David!

      I know of more than a few people who at one time made a living selling prints, at art shows (and the like) around the country. One by one in recent years they’ve dropped out of the enterprise entirely. The direction of things is unmistakable.

      Sure, feel free to archive the post. If you want, you can simply retain the URL to the post; it’s not going anywhere any time soon. 🙂

  5. One of my longtime friends, her and her husband have gone back to film in their professional photographic work. While it’s slowed down their business, their clients have loved the quality that film has captured. Of course, they’ve stayed with their day jobs.

    My other thought, most are unaware of the fleeting moment. The digital age has allowed many to gloss over the everyday, or at least to trivialize it. It’s always on to the next thing, and always in a rush. The social media platforms, especially Instagram, has devalued the photograph substantially. Hardly anyone is interested in the story a photo possesses, or how it fits into a larger story. The long form writing found in blogging is also slipping away to the “tldr” syndrome (something which you noted before).

    Occasionally, my wife has reminded a few of her patients to slow down and appreciate the moment, appreciate the quiet. The best moments are those without a camera in hand … watching geese fly overhead, watching the sunrise/sunset, and the like. They make you eager to wait and watch for the next time.

    • Back to film…no kidding. I have to admit, that’s something I really wouldn’t want to do; for all the associated negatives of the photographic digital revolution it has opened up so many positives (for me, personally, given the kinds of photography I do) in terms of image-making that I’d truly hate to go back to film. I might feel differently if I was a studio photographer…might. 🙂

      Your second paragraph really flips the switch on the negatives of the digital world, however, and you’re absolutely right. It’s truly unfortunate.

      The third paragraph is really sage advice, and well worth everyone contemplating.

  6. I must say this are beautiful shots! I actually grew up going to Brown County every year, this really brings back great memories. Thank you so much for sharing them with all of us, they have brought me, and I am sure many others, joy! If you ever find yourself with a free moment feel free to stop by my blog, it would mean a lot. The site title is Nature Fanatics, thanks in advance!

    • Thanks very much! If you’re interested in seeing more of my images from Brown Co. SP, the portal for doing so can be accessed here.

      I’ll be sure to have a look at your blog.

  7. Hey Kerry,

    Great post. I invested in a large format printer about a year ago and have been greatly enjoying the process of learning to make my own prints. As much as I enjoy sharing and viewing digital images, I find that making a good print is the ultimate goal in my own photography. In my experience, people are also much more wowed by a print, possibly because they aren’t used to seeing very many of them in this day and age.

    Some print masters (which isn’t me, not yet…) also say that if you get an image right in a print, it will be right on the screen, which is something to think about.

    -Blake

    • Hi Blake. Thanks for the comment.

      I’ve been producing my own prints for the last 16 or 17 years and it can be a truly gratifying experience; there’s nothing quite like seeing a large print roll off the printer.

      Even with custom printing profiles and a carefully calibrated monitor, I’ve never felt that a printed image is ever really matching–for lack of a better word–what I see on the screen. Screen-based images are light-emitting entities while a print reflects light, which makes them taken on an inherently different character to my eyes. Additionally, the medium you print on–different types of paper, canvas, metal, etc.–all have a major impact on the appearance of a print, and in my experience, not infrequently require somewhat different finishing processes to end up with an optimized product. YMMV, of course.

  8. wow nice …….

    • Thanks very much!


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