If You Can’t Hold A Photograph In Your Hand, Does It Still Exist? (And Other 21st Century Cloud Connundrums)

As a photographer I have a wealth of memories of both film and digital forms.

I’m young enough that my own first cameras were digital, yet old enough to remember holding photographs in my hand as a child, usually fresh out of the envelope my nan – family photographer by default as no-one else seemed to own a camera – had just arrived back from SupaSnaps with, along with her free roll of Truprint film for next time.

Because back then we knew nothing else, the only way to see the photos that had been taken of the latest family outing, event or holiday, was to leaf through a stack of shiny 6×4 prints in your hand.

Usually whilst your mother drew a sharp intake of breath if you put your greasy/sticky/chocolatey thumb print on the front, instead of handling them at the edges, like some delicate flower.

In fact, in retrospect, our expected reverential treatment of the prints did perhaps increase the feeling of how special they were.

It certainly built on the wonder of how cameras worked at all, and we were able to steal and immortalise moments in time.

Of the photographs I’ve made with intention as an adult myself,  I’d estimate I’ve had prints made of less than 0.1% of them, or less than one in every thousand.

The fact that the amount of digital photos I even keep is perhaps 10% at best, means the total number of prints I’ve ever had made is almost definitely still in double, rather than triple figures.

But why?

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Whilst I was pondering this, a parallel train of thought was beginning to emerge around music.

Not least of all since I began using Spotify a couple of weeks back.

Again if I think back to my first music consumption that was of my own choice (rather than the limited diet of Cliff Richard and Lionel Richie on my mum’s side, and soft rock power ballads, Queen and Abba on my dad’s side), I purchased and then treated those first cassette tapes as objects of considerable value and reverence too.

I just remembered that my mother did have a copy of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” on vinyl, but I never recall seeing it come out of the cupboard, let alone receive any time on the turnable.

Had Marvin “Got It On” within my young earshot, perhaps my own initial musical directions would have been considerably different.

Back to those early cassette tapes, and how the whole physicality of them was important.

(Incidentally, I believe the first one I ever bought was a compilation of American soft rock classics such as StarShip’s “We Built This City On Rock And Roll”, and “Broken Wings” by Mr. Mister, followed shortly after by Now That’s What I Call Music Vol 10, which had some belters I still enjoy today.)

The way you had to swing open the cassette’s box (each iteration wearing that curved groove made by the hinge a fraction deeper – in fact you could tell which cassettes you took out most often by how easily the box flipped/fell open), remove the tape and put it in the player (for us, one of those massive ’80s midi systems with twin tape decks to copy cassettes for friends, all black with a dash of turquoise and pink lettering that looked as achingly cutting edge as Simon Le Bon’s haircut in 1984 and terrible passé by about 1987) was all part of the anticipation, and the experience.

Then, after those initial seconds of heightened hiss died down and the music began, you’d follow along the tracklisting, and later on, when I’d move beyond mainstream compilations, the printed lyrics inside the cover which typically unravelled, like a secret scroll, to reveal five or six panels of lyrics, band photos, artwork and more.

With CDs, the experience was much the same.

Just with better sound quality, and, with the passing of time, clicky skips and glitches, rather than increased hiss and, if you were really unlucky and had played the cassette hundreds of times, the complete mangling of the fragile magnetic tape in the player’s invasive pins and rollers mechanism.

(Many years later I discovered William Basinski who I still play very frequently, and who has based virtually his whole musical career on recording imperfect, disintegrating magnetic tapes. Perhaps there’s something subliminally nostalgic going on there.)

One of my first CDs was Smashing Pumpkins’ “Siamese Dream”, and the last minute or so of “Spaceboy” had such a clipped rhythm overlaying the music, caused by an unfortunate scratch.

But it became part of the record to me, and years later when I heard an MP3 version, I wonder why this additional sonic decoration was absent, forgetting entirely it was a “fault” on my particular, damaged, CD.

But crucially, with CDs, you still had the inlay card, and now it was bigger than a cassette.

(Yes I know that vinyl had even bigger packaging, but that’s before my time, though I did later buy cheap vinyl versions of Kate Bush and David Bowie records, just so I could frame the front covers as artwork for my wall.)

By the time I was perhaps 25 I had amassed close to 500 CD albums, which I realised over time I considered defined me perhaps more than anything else.

I still believe to a significant extent today that we can learn a great deal about a person by their record (ok, music) collection.

It was important that I loved every album I had, and it meant something to me. I didn’t buy music on a whim, the way one might pick up a Snickers at the supermarket checkout just because they’re on display there and you’re stomach’s rumbling.

I was also very keen to find my own music, and share it with others, rather than absorb someone else’s collection wholesale, and took pride in being the go-to source for new music amongst my close circle of friends.

Again, this was about identity, and finding my own, plus never really wanting to be mainstream in music or anything else (after NOW! 10, I only ever bought one other NOW! compilation, volume 18, which introduced to me The Beautiful South, Talk Talk and The LAs, plus reminded me of guilty pleasures Roxette, Wilson Phillips and Phil Collins, though most of the rest of it was utter rubbish).

At some point, I expect a year or so into owning a PowerBook with iTunes and an iPod, I started to wonder if I needed all those CDs.

I loved the music, but the almost magical possibility of having thousands of songs right there in your hand/pocket was luring me in.

Now, previously (and still!) I thought that vinyl records, cassette tapes and CDs were all feats of utter sorcery. How can beautiful, fully formed music be extracted from these small, plastic, physical objects?

The iPod/AAC (or sometimes MP3) partnership was equally, if not more awe inspiring to me.

And so the next step was to upload all of the music from my 500+ CDs to my PowerBook and save as AAC or MP3 files, which I then backed up on an external HD, and my iPod (Classic).

A few years later, my iPod stopped working, and this enforced blank slate made me rethink, and start again.

Having thousands of tracks on my iPod may have been a technical marvel compared with the 12-20 one could squeeze on a cassette tape 30 years previously, but it was overwhelming, and it somehow detached me from the music.

When I had physical CDs, arranged in shelves in alphabetical order, I could find any album in a few seconds, and be listening a further few seconds later, whilst thumbing through the inlay book.

With the iPod, yes I could swipe through or search, but somehow it was more difficult, because the tracks were more distant, more anonymous.

I was ignoring dozens of albums I used to hold dear, simply because I couldn’t visually scan my CDs and say “ah, Smashing Pumpkins’ amazing “Siamese Dream”, I haven’t heard this in a while” and be listening to it within moments, complete with those “Spaceboy” glitches.

Switching back to photography once more, when I look at photographs on my MacBook as a mass of file names, however neatly organised they may be, they make virtually no emotional impact, they’re near invisible.

Even viewing thumbnail previews is little better (this is a major reason I can’t get on with Instagram, the teeny tiny images!) but at least if you’re looking for something in particular you have a chance of recognising it from a small version of the image, compared with a file called DSC00345.jpg.

Online I’ve relied heavily on Flickr to organise, tag and search through my photos.

Flickr albums too have been hugely helpful to gather together sets of photos made by the same camera or lens or film or place or theme, and if it weren’t for Flickr I know I would be far more detached from my photographs too, and probably never look at most of them again once they were uploaded.

With music in the last couple of years I’ve just uploaded a few albums at a time to Google Play Music and used that with my phone to play music.

I’ve also relied on YouTube to find old classics or explore new artists – or new albums by artists I already know.

But with Google Play Music I always have one eye on my storage allowance – which I’m nowhere near, but it still seems to make an impact – and I don’t want to go back to the iPod days where I have thousands of tracks gradually dissolving into anonymity on a single device/platform.

So a couple of weeks back I decided to (finally!) try Spotify.

I didn’t expect it to have many of the more obscure artists and records I enjoy, but so far its depth of catalogue has been impressive. Plus at least the artists receive something back from Spotify, unlike some other online listening options.

Where Spotify seems to be working really well for me is that, although in theory I have access to more songs that I could ever own, I’m not overwhelmed by it in the way I was when they were on the iPod in my pocket.

Maybe put another way, it’s easier to ignore all the tracks I’m not listening to, because I don’t have anything invested in them, monetary or otherwise.

I’m able to see Spotify much like my local library, a service and system that has been working for hundreds of years in some form.

In my lifetime in England, the library model has barely changed.

You join a library (or network of libraries, here they are typically managed by the County Council), which gives you access to borrow any of their books, whenever you wish, as long as there’s a copy available.

This means you don’t have to buy your own copy of every book you want to read, you can either try it out via the library first, and, if you still want your own copy, you can buy one.

Or just move on to another book in the library, perhaps revisiting the original book some time in the future.

With Spotify, there are artists I visit frequently, sometimes daily, the same artists that have been a part of my musical landscape for years.

But I also have access to occasional guilty pleasures, or new music by artists I already know, or in similar fields.

The arrangement makes plenty of sense to me, and I don’t crave a physical CD version of every track I hear.

Another aspect that I think makes sense with Spotify is it appeases my general desire to live lightly, to use only what I need and not to accumulate the unnecessary.

I don’t have tracks on CDs on my shelf or on an iPod gathering dust (physically or whatever the digital equivalent is).

It’s more efficient, more transient. I use what I need, when I need it, nothing more.

Back with photos, I feel I have a similar attitude in that I don’t feel desperate to own and collect physical prints.

Having my best photographs in Flickr (and backed up on HDs) is enough, I don’t need or want to print every one.

If the worst happened and my Flickr somehow disappeared (or the entire service did) and my two back up HDs both gave up or were otherwise lost simultaneously, I wouldn’t be distraught.

I’d just go out at the next opportunity and make some more photographs.

The format of both photographs and music has changed greatly in my lifetime. But at the core, I feel very little has changed.

The feelings we get from a beautiful photograph are much the same whether viewed on a decent screen, or as a print.

Similarly, appreciating a favourite piece of music is little different whether it’s on cassette or via Spotify.

There is one crucial caveat – the medium we experience the photograph or music through must be of good enough quality for our personal needs.

For example, for me, viewing a photo via Flick on my iPad is actually a lovely experience, enhanced by the tactile act of swiping to see more information, or to move to the next one.

I don’t need to view photos on a 50″ High Definition screen, but on the flipside, browsing Instagram on a phone is way too tiny, and, for me, pointless.

With music, syncing my phone to the Spotify app on our TV, which is hooked up to my old Denon stereo and Mission speakers is great, and even via my Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speakers is good enough.

I don’t need super high end, high fidelity audio gear. But music played just on the phone’s own internal speakers is wholly inadequate, for example.

So to answer the initial question I set out with – if you can’t hold a photograph in your hand, does it still exist? 

For me, the answer is of course yes.

But with the kind of prerequisite quality as described above.

Music is the same.

I don’t miss my 500 CDs anymore, and far more other factors define the person I am today – not least of all my roles as husband and father at home, photographer, blogger online, and team manager at work.

How about you? How do you feel about the evolving formats of photography (and indeed music), and how do you prefer to view and listen to each today? 

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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43 thoughts on “If You Can’t Hold A Photograph In Your Hand, Does It Still Exist? (And Other 21st Century Cloud Connundrums)”

    1. Yeh, digital images and digital music, all just ones and zeros. Still can’t really get my head around that, and how it then becomes pictures and sounds!

  1. Excellent post Dan. What you seem to be suggesting is that format is not as important as an easily accessible and readable index?

    For me there is another contingent, which is related to format. I always preferred instant access, which meant that tapes of any kind were a no-no, consequently I never had more that three or four cassettes, but I had a collection of vinyl that amounted to over 1000 albums and my subsequent CD collection was not far off that.

    Funnily enough, this very morning, for some reason (probably shortage of folding) I was thinking between sleeping and waking, whether I needed to carry on with my subscription to QOBUZ which I have had running in one form or another for the last five or six years. I have gone from FLAC to MP3 playback, and dropped the members access to HiDef recordings at their members’ discount price… With my old ears, I am not sure that I can tell the difference anyway.

    It was offered as an online service along with Tidal and Spotify on my Linn Majik streamer device. Like you, I have found myself reacquainting or discovering new stuff via YouTube just as usefully. However, they also sell outright music files, once they are bought, they are owned, none of which seems so straightforward with other online services.

    As for printed photographs, I hardly ever do it, although I did give my self a birthday present when I was sixty of a framed fibre print of a weird scene in central Croydon that I witnessed. I am not sure that I still like it so much now that it has been hanging on my wall for nearly four years, maybe it is time for another.

    Formally, as with your description, it was the TruPrint free film route for me, and to this day under my bed is an old leather suitcase with rotten straps that contains three generations of “snaps” which get pored over regularly… In this case the joy is that there is NO index, it is a purely random process.

    Dip the hand in, pull out a few and reminisce gaily.

    It’s evolution innit. 🙂

    1. Evolution indeed, sometimes for the better, sometimes not!

      I’ve always been more into albums than tracks, and appreciate how an artist crafts a whole collection of connected songs, in a certain sequence, to make one overall piece of work. Rather than the continually mix and match DIY mixtape kind of approach that many people have today.

      So because of that, I never minded not being able to dip in and out of cassette tapes, or quickly navigate them – I was quite happy to play each side through (even better once I’d graduated to auto reverse so I didn’t have to physically turn the tap over after side one!)

      I do a similar thing as you with a bunch of photos my mum has from my childhood, dipping in randomly.

      I think with digital images I have made so many, the volumes just become overwhelming. It’s one amorphous mass of data, rather than a few dozen prints, as is the case with those childhood photos I just mentioned. This is true for pictures of our family now, as well as my own artistic photography.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

  2. One of the horrors of the Great Disaster was clearing the MASSIVE amount of records, tapes, CDs, and DVDs amassed by my Dad. I literally set the stuff out on the front lawn, for free every weekend for nearly two months. Beyond that tons of it still got thrown in the trash.
    The photos were another nightmare. Thousands of images, and among them all we barely found a few that were of childhood (to be kept). Many we knew existed could not be located, and the eventual buyers of content got an artistic and documentary archive of images that probably mostly landed in the trash too.
    The digital age has at least reduced our garbage potential, even if it has removed the tactile wonders. Life is a process, and history must needs fade into the past. This from someone who crank the handle on the Brunswick to play the 78s and stared fondly at tin types of ancestors unknown.

    1. Hmm, interesting thoughts, especially about “garbage potential”. As someone fairly keen to live lightly and have a minimal impact on the planet, digital in some ways makes plenty of sense (less raw materials when you’re not collecting physical CDs, photo prints and so on).

      But I often come across websites that seem to have been abandoned years ago, and for every active and thriving blog today there must be a thousand / 10k / 100k / millions(??) that are just like graveyards of old articles and images that no-one every visits any longer, but the author didn’t bother to (or want to) delete.

      It feels like people are increasingly less responsible about clearing up as they move on with this digital age, whether it’s the data itself (old websites, photos, mp3s etc) or the devices they use to access the data with (cameras, computers, phones, iPods, audio equipment etc)…

      1. I suspect the digital age will have it’s own garbage issues as you suggest here, Dan. The other side of Marc’s comments is how loved ones will find our digital files and the precious images that would once have been found in a shoebox. Will they be lost to password protected folders on cloud storage forever hidden but known to exist to those who want them if only they could find the passwords?

      2. This is something I have thought about, leaving a notebook or something with my passwords in for my nearest and dearest when I’m gone… Otherwise yes potentially how much could be lost without anyone else knowing it even existed?

      3. Indeed, I think we all owe it to our families to at least make known what we have out there in the ether.
        I started a blog a while back relating my thoughts, excitement etc about my family and being an existing and new Dad. Initially I thought this is like a personal journal or memoir that one day my family may read and know how precious they all are to me. Then I thought “no stupid!” that’s not going to work they won’t find it and they won’t know even to look for it.

      4. This does seem strange to me, to create an online place to say how much your family means to you, but they’re not aware of it? Who was your intended audience when you created your blog?

        I think there are, broadly, two different types of work here. First, stuff we do online that are about us personally, and we want to share with family, ie using the internet as an initial resource to stay in touch and so on. (eg I use What’s App quite extensively to send family pics etc to my mum, in between the times we see her in person.)

        The second is our own creative work, stuff we create and want to share but with other like-minded people, who may include offline friends and family, but more often, do not. Which is exactly what 35hunter is for me.

        The first type our families need to know about, the second I don’t think it’s necessary, as they are not the intended audience. I’m sure there’s some crossover for many of us, but for me it’s pretty black and white.

      5. I agree it is strange, It is something I did before for a different reason using the blog format to put my thoughts into words. On this occasion it was really aimed as a more personal discussion to share on being a Dad again and having a second chance on family etc. I decided it wasn’t really going anywhere and deleted it.
        And yes the internet is a useful tool and has many benefits that allow us to share or just do personal stuff.

      6. Ah I see, I was getting confused because your Carrot Room blog is about photography, I didn’t realise you were talking about a previous blog now deleted.

        There was a site I used some years back called 750 words. The idea was to have a private notebook online and write 750 words each day. I could be part of a blog post, a recollection of a dream, a list of your favourite films and why you liked them, just anything. The only aim was to reach 750 words (there was a word count visible).

        It was also designed to be completely private, not like a blog, and you couldn’t add photos or format text or anything, just type. I enjoyed using it for a while.

        It’s not a new idea, and others call it “Morning Pages”. And of course you don’t need a special website for it, you could just open a text document, or even, gasp, write by hand in a notebook. But I guess some prefer having a specific place to do this, and helps them keep motivated and accountable.

  3. How an image is seen is as important as what it depicts. Digital photography is, largely speaking, a solitary vice until it’s printed. It prizes a bunch of technical criteria that often have nothing to do with the general pleasure derived from the photograph. My late mother’s shoeboxes contained vintage studio portraits, box camera contact prints through to 126 Instamatic enprints. At no point did anyone grade them by the camera they were taken on.

    1. Excellent points Blinx, I agree that the increasing obsession or gear and its technical capabilities has reached ridiculous levels in some quarters, whether it’s cameras, audio, TVs and so on. Great art transcends its medium, and the same is true (in fact probably more so) for more personal work, like family photos or a handwritten letter from a late relative, or a charmingly flawed hand made gift from one of your children when they were five years old… The technical quality or specification has very little, if any, relation to the pleasure and meaning the object has, as you say.

  4. For me, “real” music is live music and “real” photographs are physical objects I can hold in my hand. In both cases they can be shared with others using no hardware or software.

    1. Very interesting angle Doug. I went to a couple of dozen gigs in my younger days, and enjoyed most of them, but always preferred listening to the music on my own through headphones late at night, or up loud in my car along a country lane. I think this is a(n) (anti!) social thing with me. I’d enjoy cinema films if it wasn’t for all those irritating other people rustling wrappers and scoffing popcorn all the way through. I prefer watching at home – at least the irritating people there are the ones you’ve actually chosen to spend your life with! ; )

      Can you clarify though, how is live music a physical object you can hold in your hand?

      1. We don’t go to movies or “big” musical performances. This upcoming weekend is a good example. On Saturday night we are going to a small jazz club in Newark to hear a wonderful young singer from our local high school in her professional debut. Then on Sunday afternoon we are going to hear Vox Fidelis, a professional early music vocal ensemble specializing in sacred Renaissance polyphony, participate in a traditional service of Compline. The attendees at the latter will be respectfully silent. The listeners at the former will most certainly not be 🙂

        Respectfully, my observation about physicality clearly only applied to photographs. The similarity of live music and physical photographs is in their accessibility. All people need is their ears and eyes 🙂

      2. That last point is a good one. The format of just being able to physically see and hear is pretty universal and has been supported by humans for millennia. Will JPegs and MP3s still be supported in a few years? MP3 is already unsupported by many products so it is doubtful.

      3. This is an excellent reason to hold on to some kind of physical media and the required devices to play them on. But where do you stop? Do many people still have a VHS player and associated collection of films?

      4. Doug, those sound like the kind of performances I would be interested in, if I was going to attend any. More low key and offbeat. I’ve never been to a huge concert, but even seeing more alternative bands like Mogwai or Godspeed You Black Emperor, there was an audience in the hundreds. I’m much more of a homebody these days.

        Thanks for clarifying about physicality. I wasn’t sure if you meant attending live performances, or having recordings of live performances, as opposed to studio recordings, the former being more individual and, if you were at that particular performance, perhaps more meaningful than a set of songs carefully crafted in a studio.

        I remember recording (on cassette tape) a concert that was being broadcast live on the radio years ago, probably the early 90s. I had my tape set up to auto reverse as I knew the concert was an hour and the 60 min tape would of course need to flip half way through. When the 30 minute point arrived, I realised I’d messed up the auto reverse and the tape stopped. A quick fumble later I flipped the tape manually and pressed the record button again. I recall listening back to the recording (which I did perhaps a hundred times in the years that followed) and singing in my head the 30 seconds or so of song that I missed in the middle. Somehow that hand-made recording (off the radio) seemed to be more precious to me than playing back the pre-recorded cassette albums of the same band. Which I thought was what you might be talking about initially.

        Anyway, I digress!

      5. Oh and with movies, we have a fairly small and cheap cinema in the nearest town, which we have a buy one get on free ticket deal with on a couple of weeknights too. It’s usually at least half empty, sometimes only a dozen people. So typically to take one of the kids along I pay perhaps £7 for the two of us. Two tickets to one of the multiplexes in a larger town are around £25, plus all the associated busyness, and aforementioned popcorn scoffing etc. Our choice of the smaller venue is a no-brainer!

  5. Hitting on two areas of interest for me here Dan.
    I like the physicality of things and for me they are more real and can be an important part of social interaction. A photograph printed and on display in my home or at work becomes part of the place and occasionally gets noticed by someone which may spark a conversation about where it was taken or when.
    Similarly for me (perhaps this is a vinyl thing) someone visiting may notice my player with a recently played album lying on top and that sparks interest and a conversation.
    No one ever notices what photos I have on my HDD or music in my phone unless I am particularly showing them – like the tedious slide shows sometimes parodied by comedy history.
    Also, and this particularly relates to streaming music, there is the possibility that truth and history are lost – a version of a song that is now not appropriate can be replaced and the original removed and unless someone owned it is unobtainable – I read an article once of a guy that had some unique recordings of songs (some live and some just unusual versions); when he signed up to allow Apple to save him storage space and give him ‘instant’ access to his music anywhere and on any device he found that Apple had deemed some of his versions and not really existing and deleted them from his storage, lost forever.
    In that respect actually having these things can be important – relying on for profit organisations to safeguard you memories has a risk – if no-one listened to a song and space was needed why would they waste money keeping it available?

    1. Mr Fox, thanks for your thoughts, and yes I understand what you mean. This is like what I was saying in the post about how my music collection (and to a smaller extent my book collection) used to define me. If someone visited my place and browsed through my music/books, I kind of wanted it to make a statement about who I was and what I was into, and connections and conversations could flow from there. Or not! It was kind of like having a dating profile up front, rather than being a complete stranger, my music gave an intro to who I was.

      This doesn’t really happen now, because my digital music is pretty “hidden” – even my family don’t know much about what I listen to, other than catching a snatch of it occasionally and thinking it “strange” or “weird”! Though I am working on my six year old son with classical music by playing plenty from films he likes, like Alan Silvestri’s Marvel Avengers soundtracks.

      That’s quite shocking about the unique recordings of songs being automatically replaced by later/different versions!

      I have noticed actually on quite a few Spotify tracks where it’s older music that the track listing usually says something like “2017 remastered edition” or similar.

      I found it ironic and rather hilarious that some of the William Basinski records I like which were recordings of short loops of magnetic tape being played over and over as they disintegrated, say they’re the “digitally remastered” editions! How do you digitally remaster a track where the point of it is that it’s the sound of analogue tape physical breaking down as it plays!!

      I used to have a quite obscure record by a US band called Worthington, and the album was He Was Not A Micro Manager. Absolutely loved it, then lent it to a friend and never saw it again. Haven’t ever been able to find it online since, so it’s a bit of a lost classic in my head only…

      1. I guess we have to create a new ‘digital parlor’ for ourselves where our likes, creations and other digital objects of distinction that represent our persona can be presented. I guess that is partly what our blogs and instagrams etc are about but they seem to be something that someone like minded would search and find rather than being stumbled upon by people we know.

      2. Nigel, on the flip side, many instead use the internet for a degree of anonymity, where they can perhaps speak/create more freely than they feel they could using their own name. I’m glad you reminded me of your first name, Silver Fox is a cool handle but I do feel a bit silly calling you “Silver” or “Mr Fox”. 🙂

  6. Dan, you’ve covered a lot of ground here.I had to ruminate over this post a little, It challenged some of my long-held beliefs.When I was young,I was told many times that a photograph wasn’t really finished until it was printed. I enjoyed darkroom work and spent many happy hours there but always found printing deeply frustrating. I was not a natural. But I do enjoy some of the prints I did make, and do occasionally look at old prints of travel and family photos more than a hundred years old. I do have a friend who took many, many pictures of a trip of a lifetime to China, and lost them all after his data cards and back up unit failed. He has no photos of his trip and family members there. Granted, this was unusual, but it does happen.
    On the other hand, I asked myself how often I get pictures out and look at them, and the answer was “Not very often”. I do look at my pictures online fairly often though, so there is that.I suspect that most photographers that do it as a hobby, not to earn money are like you and I and seldom print anything. I do appreciate how easy it is to make prints today compared to the “Old days”,but the cost of ink refills for my Canon printer are enough to give anyone pause about hitting that print button.
    At one time years ago, every person I knew lost all their digital music when the Apple device failed, so I guess that was a common issue. I haven’t used Apple products for music, so can’t comment, but believe it or not, my housemate and I still listen to music on cassette tapes.I have been a huge Daniel Johnson fan for years, and became addicted to tapes many years ago. Unlike yourself, I grew up with vinyl, but never really liked it past childhood. records take up a ton of house room, are heavy and need constant maintenance, as do the turntables you play them on. We do play CD’s also, but don’t have a lot of them. I also really relish live music, but now I live out in the boondocks, so that is very rare. I see you are not a fan, but there are good shows and bad shows, and Iv’e been to some that were pretty great. The experience of being at the last Mission of Burma show was a religious experience.
    So, I am of two minds about this modern digital age, but there are some significant upsides, and in any case, there is no going back, so I figure I may as well make the bast of it. I will say that it never occurred to me that real physical prints of pictures may not be necessary until I read this post.

    1. Jon, thanks for all of your thoughts. I had a plenty of rumination going on myself in writing this post, it ended up about four times the length I thought it would!

      When I’ve had prints made, it’s been either an online service or just in one of those instant machines you can send images to via Bluetooth on your phone. I know there are higher quality services, but I don’t really have the interest or need to explore them, at this point.

      I love that you still use cassettes! Do you have like a hi-fi separates tape deck and an amp, or a Walkman personal player? Or something else? I do remember how liberating it felt as a kid getting my first Walkman (though it wasn’t a Sony, but a lower, cheaper copy) complete with those headphones with the foam pads. Your own personal choice of music, wherever you went.

      I have enjoyed most of the concerts/gigs I’ve been to, I just don’t love it enough as a concept to make the time and effort now. The best was perhaps Mogwai when they were barely known and had just released “Young Team” in 1997 and we saw them in a tiny place with very low ceilings. When they began playing the opening riffs of the album’s closing track, Mogwai Fear Satan, an epic 16 minute mess of glorious ascending and descending noise, we couldn’t believe they were going to play it. They did, and extended even further, and made it even louder than the rest of the concert. We genuinely thought the ceiling would come down. That’s the only gig where my ears were still ringing the next day!

      The other contender was almost the polar opposite in many ways, Labradford’s “Festival Of Drifting” which featured a handful of artists performing similar ambient and minimal instrumental pieces. Plus it was at the South Bank Centre in London, far more grand and upmarket (and seated!) than the Brighton Concorde where Mogwai played. A few heroes came together in one night, not least of all Labradford themselves, but also Robin Guthrie (from Cocteau Twins), David Pajo (Slint guitarist) and Pole (aka Stefan Betke) who amazed me with the strange beats he conjured from his little Mac laptop as much as David Pajo did with a single guitar and two looping effects pedals.

      I think you’re right in that we need to embrace the benefits of the digital age, but not lose sight of what makes music and photography special, and which has existed for hundreds of years before zeros and ones!

      1. We have JVC “bookshelf” unit downstairs that plays cassettes and CD’s, and I have a Panasonic boom box upstairs in my bedroom. The JVC is pretty small, but it weighs about 40 pounds, so it stays put. I bought it in 2001, after 911, when no one was shopping or doing anything. I went down to the stereo store, when we still had such a thing, and I was the only shopper. It was fearfully expensive, but I’ve been enjoying it for almost twenty years, so I guess it was money well spent. I had a Walkman for years, but it broke and I threw it out. Now, they are easily repaired and lots of parts available online.

      2. The JVC sounds like a good investment. My mum had a JVC TV for at least 15 years, then gave it to our daughter who had it for perhaps three years, then to our son, who’s had it a couple, so that’s probably about the same era as your hi-fi. Still going strong!

  7. Thought provoking. I value printed photos more now, simply because if I have a print it really WAS a special moment/image ha ha. Same with my books, the ones I keep are especially wonderful b/c they are worth having a copy of. Tolkien & my beautiful U.S. NW Native American history, as well as random children’s books. Now I listen to audiobooks-which btw-our library has 2 FREE subscription services to outside apps-hoopla/rb digital..and I’m crazy about podcasts. I’m 52 & its taken me yrs to get used to the idea of “donating” to something invisible, like a podcast. I’m finally there.

  8. I think we will not solve it here. It is how it is. Photos and music in digital age are consumed mostly digitally- on screens (not on paper).

    Still, those most important photos should be preserved so they last as long as possible – print. We don’t know what format will be here in 50 years and if our files will be possible to open and view.

  9. I’m older than you and remember my sister and parents’ 78 rpm records, then my own vinyl (lps/singles/eps). I also had a reel-to-reel tape recorder which was a total pain in the arse but at least had good quality audio. When cassettes came on the scene, I thought vinyl was probably going to die, so I transferred everything to cassette, only to discover cassette was being overtaken by CDs… so I began collecting CDs and disposing of the cassettes… then I discovered MiniDiscs and found I could record and listen, and edit them. And somehow, that’s where I stuck. Even though the players and recorders are no longer made, I still use minidiscs, and I still use CDs. I’ve got some of my old vinyl but nothing to play it on – I keep it mostly for the sleeve art and the memories. I have tried mp3s, etc, but never really got on with them. That said, I’m addicted to youtube which is as digital as it comes.

    As for photos, when I use a camera it’s a digital so for nearly 20 years now all my photos have been digital, but I absolutely love original prints and in fact, as well as my family photos (I’ve over 500 of them, probably closer to 6 or 7 hundred), I collect vintage photos – that’s partly what my blog is about. As well as the stuff I put online, I’ve physical photo albums of them as I love looking at the originals.

    Maybe if I’d been younger, I’d have got into the digital world more than I have, but for me it just hasn’t happened to the same degree it has for you.

    1. Ah I remember MiniDisc! I never had one, at the time I seem to recall they were pretty expensive (compared to cassette tapes, and players), so I stuck with cassettes for a few years before buying my first CD player (a DiscMan). Having just googled both MiniDisc and DiscMan I was amazed that the MiniDisc came out in 1992 (about what I thought), but the first DiscMan was some eight years previous, in 1984. In my head CDs didn’t come out until the early 90s…

      Physical albums is something I’ve wanted to do for a while, for family photos. I think the trouble is we have taken so many pictures of our kids already (1000s, even with considerable editing), it’s intimidating knowing where/how to begin. Maybe a kind of highlights album of 20 photos per year would be good, then keep the rest in the digital archives…

      1. The other thing about printing digital photos to keep in albums is what to print them on. Some of the early ones I printed have now faded so badly that they’re only really worth chucking (and they can’t be restored properly because the special texture of the paper makes them look smeary when scanned). So that means getting archival paper (which tends to be pricey).

        Like you, I’ve so many I wouldn’t know where to start with many of them. I suppose the thing to do is to print the special ones.

        Few people had minidiscs. There’s actually a thriving community of people who use them (I haven’t joined any but I read their posts sometimes, and it’s a good way to find old players and recorders that are no longer sold in shops) – a whole bunch of geeks and nerds, I think! 😉

      2. Jon who replied above still uses cassettes!

        I love old tech, as you may have noticed from many of my posts here being about 10 year old plus digital cameras. Reckon I’d like a MiniDisc!

      3. My mentality is too fussy to enjoy old cameras… I’d be afraid all the time that they’d breakdown! I saw one of your posts on a Lumix that has a high pitched whine? That would have made me dump it, even if it took great photos! (That said, I’d love a new Lumix, if I can ever find one that has all the functions I want.)

        Yes, you probably would like Minidiscs. You can pick them up fairly cheaply on Ebay – try an MD version of a recording walkman, they’re fun, portable and you can record and edit on them. Sharp make good ones (apart from the silly ones with switches on leads!) Blank discs are still available, too.

        I’ve a few cassettes still, but mostly voice recordings, particularly my dad whose memoirs I recorded for me and my sister.

      4. That Lumix is the LX3. Once I’d improved the handling with some foam and grip tape, it became one of my favourites. The overall controls, capability, and especially the lens, are excellent. But yeh it’s hard to describe that noise, it’s not really a whine, just like you know with old CRT TVs you could walk into a room and know it was on by that high frequency “presence”? It’s like that. No other camera I’ve ever had sounds like this, so I think it’s an odd fault in my example. The LX5 and LX7 are also very well regarded. If I got another higher end compact if my LX3 broke, it’d most likely be the LX7.

        Don’t tempt me with the MiniDiscs, I’ve just about got my camera buying addictions in check. Our daughter was given an old Sony DVD player a few years back, and it was maybe 15 years or more old then. These days they’re all tiny but this is proper full size audio separates size. I love it because it feels just so robust and good quality. I had an old Sony CD player years ago that was ancient and it was similarly satisfying…

      5. My lumix has a sort of whirring noise when the lens is retracting but I tend to ignore it most of the time. A whine sounds like a fault. What I can’t have is anything with an auto-flash or loud shutter click because when I’m photographing birds, they’d fly away! I’ll have a look at the LX5 and LX7, thanks.

        I’m just toying with the idea of getting an old (will have to be old as I don’t suppose they’re made anymore) vhs to dvd recorder so that I can at least dispose of the remainder of my video tapes! So… yeah, full size DVD player… good stuff!

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