How important are photographs today?

Sep 7, 2020 | Commentary

Remember the days when we used to take photographs with cameras that used film roll? You would take your pictures without knowing how they would turn out, take the film to a photography shop and then wait about two weeks to pick up your photos. The closest we got to immediate images was with an instant camera, of which Polaroid was the brand name … as Andre 3000 sings in Hey Ya!, “shake it like a Polaroid picture.” Quick sidebar. It seems the song actually helped revitalise Polaroid Corporation’s business and they sponsored some Outkast parties where they distributed cameras, though they did warn that shaking the picture would probably damage it.

Photo by eniko kis on by Unsplash

We took pictures to capture moments which we would relive sitting around a photo album, where the photos were, in today’s speak, curated. With the advent of the smartphone camera, and increased storage, this idea that the best camera is the one in your pocket is bandied around quite a bit and, yes, this has made photography accessible to more of us.

I was listening to the Headspace podcast recently and Andy Puddicombe, the man behind Headspace, was talking about how the camera on the phone has, to a certain extent, and I am paraphrasing, taken away from experiences. I still remember being at a music performance and, for the first time, realising that all I could see was a sea of phone screens, with everyone holding up their phones to record the performance – and I was one of those.

The greater irony is that I rarely go back to watch the performances I record again, other to either show a friend or share on social media, and even when I post, I rarely actually watch it again.

My phone automatically backs up photographs to my Dropbox account when I am in a WIFI zone and I am now sitting with thousands of photographs that I never actually look at, especially considering at least half of them are of the same thing for ‘the gram’. And, the process of deleting them is time-consuming.

So, what I try to do now is take fewer pictures, and focus on the more ‘important’ pictures, like a birthday or something similar. I am trying to get back to enjoying moments for what they are, without worrying about documenting them. I still take pictures for ‘the gram’ but I am trying to be a bit more deliberate about it, and enjoy the process, without the hold it has had on me.

How important are photographs to you today?