Posterity Rules!

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Monday, February 09, 2015
By Shelley Miller
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This is the time of the year I go into my organizational mode (don't worry it doesn't last long).  I have boxes of photos from my childhood and my son's childhood.  I have never been very good at my organizational skills, so most of them never made it into an album.  But they are there, and every once in a while it is a rush to sit down and go thru them.  At the other end of the closet, I came across a ton of old CD's, a couple of floppy drives, and even an old microdrive or two.  Most of the CD's are unreadable, or scratched. Without tech help I would be unable to look at any of the images that might be on my microdrive.  I also have a drawer of removable hard drives long ago corrupted.  I can still sit down and look at that box of photos!

Somewhere in the late 80's I got my first computer.  It was a Mac IICi.  It had an 80Mb hard drive, and 2Mb or RAM.  I was on top of the world, and thought I had everything I ever needed to run a successful Graphic Design business.  It took 3.5" floppy disk that held just a little over 1.4Mb of data.  Then they came out with the Microdrives...a whole 1gb would fit on it (I also remember thinking that gigabyte was just a really silly sounding word).  Then came CD's, flash drives, and so on and so on as technology goes.  My current computer doesn't even have a CD drive has a 3TB hard drive and 16GB of RAM.

There is a family picture hanging on my wall. I was five years old, the baby in the family. It proudly shows my grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and brothers.  Sadly more than half of the people in that photo are no longer with us. But I have that pictures.  That photo is old...long before computers were even a thought.  I was thinking if that photo was taken when some of the earlier digital cameras came out (historically speaking, not that long ago), and I had stored it on one of the earlier disc technologies, would it ever had made it to my wall?

When I get a call from a client that says the only want the digital files, and aren't really interested in prints, it makes me sad.  I have talked at great length with my clients and other photographers about this.  On the clients side, they say, they want the files for posterity, they may not want or can affort photos on their wall, but want to have these memories on file.  I get that.  From photographers I hear complaints about lack of artistic control, and income...beleive me I really get that.

The one thing that I hear discussed rarely, is that posterity is a lot shorter than it used to be. I photograph mostly children and weddings.  My clients are mostly 20 and 30 somethings that grew up in a digital world.  Historically speaking, that world is so young.  Technology is changing so fast, that I question whether or not those digital files of today, will even be readable on the computers 20 years from now.  In that big box of photos that I was going thru, I found a picture of my mom and dad.  On the back was written "40 years ago".  I will never understand what my mom was thinking when she wrote that.  While I may never know the exact date of that photograph, I still have the picture, and it is priceless - inscription on the back and all.

So while clients think they are getting exactly what they want when I sell them their digital files, I feel like they are really getting shortchanged.  What will happen to those digital files 10, 20 or 40 years down the road?  I'll take my box of photos and family photo framed on my wall any day.  Just sayin'...



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