Piling up the pictures

Jun 25th, 2012 | By | Category: Personal Columns

Facebook has enabled the question to be avoided. What do you do with all the pictures?

Digital cameras and mobile phones have made possible the taking of endless pictures at virtually no cost; a generation ago, and there would have been hesitancy at taking even a fraction of the number of shots that are now taken without need for thought of the cost.

Back in the late 1980s I had a friend who was a very good amateur photographer – he even had a couple of exhibitions. Inspired by his efforts, for a while I would photograph odd stuff. I liked splashes of colour and things with strong shapes. The Best Beloved had an excellent SLR camera that could compensate for my ineptitude. I had photographs of gates to farmers’ fields, of roadside advertising hoardings, of street scenes.

The efforts came to an end – partly because it was expensive to get photographs developed, partly because they looked odd in albums, and chiefly because leaving the car unlocked allowed someone to make off with the camera (together with twenty Irish punts and an excellent bottle of Taylor’s port).

Since buying digital camera in 2006, thousands of images have accumulated. The best of the holiday pictures used to get printed – but even with the cost of each print being only  a few cent, there still seemed a lot of pictures that weren’t worth getting printed. There would be nowhere to put the prints anyway – I mean to say, where would you put a collection of pictures of French signs? Or pictures of French crosses?

Garrison Keillor’s book  Radio Romance begins in the days when every word broadcast was weighty, when everything was carefully considered, when no opportunity to be on air could be treated trivially. But soon the airwaves are filled with countless words, with pointless words, with words used in a profligate way. The seriousness and the weightiness was lost.

Look at photographs from the past, look at the old family albums;  the stilted portraits, the occasional glimpses into daily life captured by a few skilled photographers, every picture counted. Now there are billions of images, pictures in over abundance. Like the devaluing of words, so there has been a devaluing of images, through the sheer number accumulated.

Has something been lost? The sense of the special, the sense of it being important to gather people together to record something for posterity, the sense of a glimpse being a privilege, these have gone.

My Facebook account has an ever expanding number of albums; pictures with no more substance than the click of a mouse, pictures caught in a hyperinflation of images. While enjoying taking the pictures, they will never have the value of photographic prints carefully placed in albums as a record of the passing generations; never be like those old black and white snaps of moments in a bygone world.




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  1. Maybe you should still put the odd album together for the future.

  2. ‘Odd’ would be an appropriate description for my pictures!

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