Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A digital decade

The picture at the head of this post has a special significance; it's the first digital photograph I took -  almost exactly ten years ago. I know this because the file is date stamped and it's the first to show in the tab named 2002 General which sits under the Pictures Folder.

In a rare reversal of the norm, in which long-gone events could be yesterday, I find it astonishing to think it's only a decade since I stopped using Kodachrome. The days of counting down exposures, posting off the film and waiting for your prints to arrive - then sticking them in a leather-bound book  - seem much further back.

My boys don't remember at all. To them, chemical photography is a thing of history - it's marketed now as Lomogrpahylow-tech, vintage and trendy. Devotees place particular value on the random outcome, using plastic cameras and prizing 'out of date' film for its unreliability. Film must be one of the few technologies that having endured so long, was so quickly and comprehensively replaced.

But I don't lament it's passing. Digital photography is a great improvement. The ability to reel off (okay so we haven't lost the language of analogue yet) picture after picture, send them round the world, post to a blog, display them instantly - fantastic. And the quality of even the cheapest cameras is incomparable to the grainy Instamatics they sold in Jessops. The camera on my phone is now better than almost any 35mm compact.

Nor do I miss my photo albums.  In the next room lie thirty years of images, unseen in a wooden chest. Meanwhile, there's a decade of pictures on my computer, constantly being referenced, viewed on the screensaver, shown to friends... I must have viewed these a thousand times more than I ever did the physical prints.

I use the pictures for my writing too.  Notes and sketches remain important but, in the landscape, a digital camera is now my first choice - and for identifying insects or flowers it's unsurpassed. Often I create a montage as a writing prompt, a sort of 'mood board' that's not literal, but a reminder to the senses. I developed this technique from painting - always using wallet size prints on the cheapest paper I could find.

Notes shouldn't be an end in themselves. 'Never be precious' my painting tutor used to say,  but that can be difficult if you're destroying hard won work. A delight of digital is that you can scribble all over the print outs - and yet still have the image in reserve; it has a kind of cake and eat it quality.

I could go on and on. But the general point is that we should embrace and celebrate this particular technology. And as I look at the image above, I wonder how much more change there'll be in the next ten years.  More, no doubt, than I can imagine - I hope it's as much for the good.


  1. Agree. Digital photography is superior in pretty much every way I can think of. And I find I browse the old pics on my blog more often than the computer directories of stored images.

  2. Hello Mark:
    We, who never owned a camera before starting our blog some eighteen months ago, share your enthusiasm and praise for digital pictures although, if truth be told, we still do occasionally enjoy looking through old family albums which have come down to us.

    Later this week we depart for Venice and so will be 'off air', so to speak, for a while. We shall look forward to catching up on our return.

  3. I miss photo albums. My brother recently gave me his wedding day album on a disc...there is something not quite right about that! x

  4. I certainly wish the technology had been as freely available ten or 20 years previously... particularly the ability to film movies. I think of all the moments I missed with my grandparents that I could have shown my kids today...

  5. We were a couple of years behind you in going digital, Mark, but I so agree. I too have boxes of albums which hardly ever see the light of day, but my digital ones are often looked at and the quality is infinitely better.

  6. When I thought of photography at all I languished in some self-indulgent nostalgia - lamenting the passing of real film wound into a chunky big camera; the anticipation of results via the post; tangible photos I could hold and slot into albums or frame or create montages from...
    Having read your excellent post I know that you are right.
    Digital is much better. More efficient. Greater clarity.
    So...Why do I find myself always forgetting to take my new camera? And why does downloading onto the laptop seem such a chore? And why have I 'lost' screeds of digital images which are locked onto defunct laptops?
    I'm a luddite. A lazy one. Oh dear.

  7. I'm with Steve - wish it had been as easy to make movies of my kids 15yrs ago as it is now. I just have stills of them as little'uns.

    Come to think of it, I must take the movie camera with me to the UK this New Year and record some typical family moments with my mum.