Today we live in a virtual world. Indeed, virtual reality is predicted to be the next “it” thing, with technology on the horizon that even has the potential for doctors to perform surgery from half way around the world. We live in an unprecedented modern age where so much of our life exists through a screen — our financial statements, our legal contracts, our books, even our relationships! And yes, our cherished wedding photographs, too.
But we know that anything that is virtual can disappear in a heart beat — just as quickly as it was there, it can be gone. A phone can be lost, a hard drive can be dropped, a thumb drive can go bad, or, files can simply be misplaced or deleted by accident. More commonly, devices that are used to store images can become obsolete in a matter of 5-10 years. Can you imagine if the only copy you had of your great-grandparents wedding photos was on an 8” floppy disk? Good luck calling the Smithsonian to see if they still have an early computer that can read it! A 2015 study by the Professional Photographers of America found that people are taking more photos today than in past generations. And yet, 53% of consumers haven’t printed a photograph in more than 12 months, 70% don’t have a photo album in the home (wedding or family), and 42% no longer print photographs at all.
There is something to be said for the simple photographic print that exists not in a virtual world, but in the physical world. You can feel the paper’s texture through your fingers, you can see how the image has faded or yellowed with time, and yes, in many cases, you can still smell the chemicals that were once used to produce it. But, more importantly, your hands are holding the same piece of paper perhaps a loved one or ancestor once held. Maybe even a grandparent wrote names and dates on the back in their own hand. A photograph not only connects you to your life and your personal timeline, it reminds you of it. Photographs evoke feeling, and they help keep your memories alive. Every anniversary when you look at your wedding album, or every day you pass by a photograph hanging on your wall, you are called to remember: how much you were in love, how young you once were, how happy you were on your wedding day, how little the kids were. Photographs remind us to appreciate the present moment, because we can see how quickly time has marched along. But a photograph can’t do those things if it isn’t seen. It does you no good if it’s buried on a hard drive you don’t access. How often do you look through your old hard drives and reminisce through the photos from years past? How often do you flip through photos on your phone from 7 or even 10 years ago? Printing your photographs is the best insurance and ultimate backup against digital failure. But it goes deeper than that. It’s about the next generation.
If for no other reason, than print your photographs for your children. Who can remember being a child and spending hours flipping through boxes of old family photos and pouring through family albums? We certainly can. It was in fact, what sparked our early interest in photography. Sadly, today’s generation of kids is growing up without those printed photographs to hold in their hands — photographs that tell them how much their grandparents were in love before they got married, what their own parents looked like as children, and what they looked like the day were brought home from the hospital.
After all, the person you are today is a result of who and where you’ve been. And a photograph is your past, present, and future, all wrapped up in one image. There has never been a more important time to print your photographs then now. Because if you don’t print and preserve your history for yourself and the next generation, then who will?