What is it about photography? Why do we have this insatiable hunger for it?
Since the launch of the box Brownie by Eastman Kodak in 1888, we have collectively jumped at the chance to capture our lives in real time.
Colour film was created in the 1930s and, by the 1960s, we had cheap plastic cameras to use for our family holidays. Slide nights were a mainstay in many households. In the last ten to fifteen years, film has given way to digital photography. Digital cameras come as point-and-shoots, as affordable single lens reflex (SLR) lens-and-body camera kits, and are now even built into our mobile phones. Many of us carry a camera device on us 24/7, making photography cheaper and more accessible than ever before.
And the hunger grows. Social networking sites like Facebook provide us our own profile page where we can share our personal lives – three million photos a day are uploaded on average. Why such a fascination with photography?
I’m a photo addict, so much so that I’ve made this medium my profession. This is not to say that I carry my camera gear with me at all times (although I do have my smartphone with me everywhere I go). It’s to say that I am in love with this medium. I was nine when I was given my first instamatic camera. This was a big deal because film and processing were expensive, so every frame really counted.
Here is the first photo I took…
Let’s face it, technically and creatively it’s pretty average. For a nine-year- old, that’s OK and can be forgiven. But, more importantly, when I saw the print for the first time, I remember the magic of photography hitting me squarely between the eyes.
Photography is as enduring as life and love. It transcends time. With a simple click, a passing moment becomes permanent, and you can hold it in your hands, anytime you want.
Photos serve as triggers for our memory. They take us back in time to moments faded or otherwise forgotten. They tell us who we are, where we come from, who is important in our lives, whom we matter to.
Photography makes our temporary time on this planet permanent. It serves as proof that ‘we were here’.
This photo of my parents was taken in 1985 in the dining room of our family home. Each time I look at it, I see something new: their smiles, the way my mum has her arm around my dad, the way he leans into her, the glass of red wine on the table, the candle in the wine bottle, the bunch of flowers on the table, the pepper pot that we still use today, the empty dishes from one of my mum’s home-cooked meals … it goes on. I’m also taken back in time to an era in my life. I remember the me that was, my childhood in that town, and my home. This photo triggers memories of other parts of that stage in my life that I might otherwise have forgotten.
I’m flooded with happy, warm, fuzzy feelings when I look at that simple picture of my parents at the dinner table. It tells me that loving people loved me. It reminds me of my happy childhood. Ultimately, it is meaningful to me because I connect with it. If the family home burned down, I would want to save this photo.
Given the time, effort, and cost that it took to make photographs with film, we tended to make sure that the moments we captured were worthy of a photograph. Family members and experiences generally made it through this filter. Who we placed in the viewfinder and the context of the composition had meaning to us. If we went on a holiday, there were certain moments when we reached for the camera: during a sunset, at an iconic site, a beautiful landscape, at a fun park.
Something happens in the human psyche that motivates us to reach for a camera. We see or experience something that is worthy of being made permanent. We see our child making a sandcastle and we feel an emotive reaction to that moment. We feel pride, or joy, or excitement. In other words, something is happening in front of us that is shifting us from the present mindset to the future. When we reach for the camera and click, we create a gift for our future self.
Technology advances so quickly in this age of ‘quicker, faster, cheaper,’ and photography is no different. The invention of the digital camera was the next logical step in its technological development. Memory cards and sensors replaced film and there was an explosion in the marketplace of digital point-and-shoot cameras. The single lens reflex (SLR) digital cameras revolutionised the workflow for professional photographers and, as the technology developed, digital SLR kits became readily available to the amateur photographer market. In a matter of just a few years, film was more or less dead.
Digital photography has not fundamentally changed our motivation to capture our lives. It has provided instant playback and the absence of processing costs, which means we have more freedom to capture more moments. We no longer have to wait for our photos.
Digital photography has been a roaring success.
Excerpt from Memories at your fingertips – organise your digital photos like a pro.