I recently came across an article that caused me to pause for a moment ~ with all of the current focus on digital content delivery and immediacy of information could it be possible that we are creating a situation that will not have any sort of lasting printed photographic legacy? The digital environment has certainly changed the way we use images in our daily lives: email, Ipads, Facebook and other social media outlets, all unheard of twenty years ago when the inevitable workflow of a photo session concluded with a final print product. Now, we see the demise of the 1 hour photo lab, even more so the scarcity of a slide projector and tray of slides. In context I guess I can understand why people choose to forgo having images printed: cost, the space, the effort; but at the end of the day I have to believe that the prospect of not having any physical portfolio of your work to pass onto others - whether it be family, friends, or the public - would be a more paramount concern.
Take for example the recent discovery of the photography of Vivian Maier, quite possibly the most prolific street photographer of the 20th century. Until a short time ago most of the public and photographic community would have no idea who she was, or more importantly the historical legacy of the images she had left behind. If not for a chance auction purchase it may have been possible that her entire body of work, spanning several decades, would have been lost without so much as a comment or footnote. The fact that her images were discovered, and have been re-introduced to the public only strengthens the argument that we need to continue to document our lives, and those around us, in physical media.
For arguments sake, lets suggest that in the next decade or two computer systems, file types, everything that we have come to know and base our structures on, change drastically ~ computer use in my lifetime has already seen enormous (and unimaginable) swings in terms of the technology and computing power, and even medias used so very recently have become, or will soon be, obsolete: can you remember floppy drives (I do, 8”, 5¼”, 3.5” discs – all no longer mainstream), zip disks and drives – even CD’s are making way for DVD and Blu-Ray optical discs. Photoshop didn't even exist 25 years ago, never mind Lightroom, Aperature, Picassa ... Would it be much of stretch to think that formats such as JPG and RAW could also suffer the same fate? Can you foresee a future where the technology may not even be available to open these file types? All of that hard work and data collection, potentially lost forever with no lasting visible reference for future generations?
I never had the opportunity in my photographic journey to create images myself in the darkroom; the closest I get now is the anticipation of watching an image exit on my printer. However I can imagine what that sensory experience may have been like: the texture of the paper, the smells of the chemicals and the magic of bringing an image to life in front of you. If you feel particularly compelled I would encourage you to build your own photographic legacy - take time to create a few prints of your best images: hang them on your wall, put them in a portfolio, or just give them away to someone who may appreciate the gesture - to ensure your work lives on in a tangible form.