Living Out Loud

Looking at Pictures

1970 little

When I was growing up, family pictures were kept in notebooks on a shelf in the living room. Most of the pictures were either taken with instant cameras or by professional photographers at schools, churches and department stores. My mom's husband worked for the newspaper, so we had access to a 35mm camera but seldom used it. There were only a few times when picture taking was called for, namely, on vacation, at holidays, at weddings and whenever babies were doing something cute. The only pictures of food I can remember seeing were of the spread at Thanksgiving.

In my family, the exception to the rule were my dad's album of pictures from Vietnam. Those albums were ingrained with a fine red dust that had settled into them while they were still in Southeast Asia. Most of the photos were of soldiers I never knew wearing jungle fatigues and holding M-16s. Dad was a pilot during his second trip to the war, so there were lots of pictures of helicopter related things. There were also a few pictures I'm guessing Dad wished he'd never taken because I know as an adult, I wish I'd never seen them.

Even with the invention and widespread adoption of instant cameras, the volume of photos didn't increase in my family, mostly because of the price of film. My own relationship to photographs as a younger person were much the same as my parents until cell phones and digital cameras became common place. I was able to use a digital camera as early as 1995 because my job required it. Those early digital photos are of laughably poor quality today when a single DSLR image is routinely 25MB in size. During the early days, one of the most popular and convenient digital cameras was the Sony Mavica, which took multiple photos onto a single 1.44MB floppy disk.

We all know what happened to photography and the volume of photos with the advent of the smart phone revolution. We are now creating more photos in a single year than were taken in the entire first century and a half of photography. This past Saturday, while volunteering at a trail race, my wife took over 500 photographs. When I was a kid, that would have been over 20 rolls of film. No one outside of professionals took pictures like that.

I wonder how much people look at their photos these days. I know that taking pictures is insanely popular. Instagram, Facebook and other social media sites prove that, but I have to wonder what people do with their photos after they have milked them for Internet points? Personally, I love when any app I use has an "on this day" function that allows me to look back through the years. Instead of a static wallpaper on my phone, I use a folder full of my favorite images so that I constantly get surprised. I keep my photo collection pretty organized. I make use of the facial recognition features and I make albums for special occasions. I routinely go through and delete snaps of the various computers, printers and switches I take at work. I even have a couple of projects, like the 100 Strangers whose street portraits I took, that I've looked at many, many times over the years and which I am happily sharing again since I started blogging.

I was in an Apple Store earlier this week and a college aged woman remarked to her mom that she has 58,000 cell phone pictures in iCloud. I've had a smart phone since 2009 and I own a couple of nice DSLRs, and my total photo output doesn't come close to that. I wonder how many of them she's looked at twice.