If we want to preserve our photography, we need to make sure that the digital objects we create today can still be rendered far into the future. We discuss the topic, and get the opinion of family and portrait photographer Niki Boon, who has intimate experience of the importance of printing pictures.
Today’s digital environment makes storing and sharing images more convenient than ever before, but with that ease has come the risk of over-reliance. Images shared on social media flash by our screens in an instant, storage media is prone to failure, and our ability to access digital images is entirely dependent on cooperative hardware and software.
It is an issue that troubles even the biggest of digital boosters. Vint Cerf, Google’s chief internet evangelist — also known as the ‘father of the internet’ — has for years made it his mission to raise awareness of the precariousness of digital history. In particular, he is concerned with what he dubs the “digital black hole”, whereby information disappears once an online host is gone, or the programs designed to open it have become defunct.
Luckily, photographers have a long tradition in one of the most potent defences against vanishing images — printing. Not only does printing an image free it from the confines of digital display, but it also affords artists the chance to develop their editing and self-evaluation skills, as well as being a uniquely satisfying craft. It just takes a commitment to pushing beyond digital convenience and embracing the physical.
Marlborough photographer Niki Boon is acutely aware of the importance of preserving memories as prints. Her mother died when she was still young and left her precious few photographic keepsakes to be remembered by.
“I would love to have more stories from my youth that I can access, beyond my own memories, and I wish I had the visual recall in the form of photographs,” she laments. “They are the stories that now, as an adult, I crave: of my own background and youth, and that of my parents’, especially those that are no longer around to talk to.”
Niki is eager to make sure that her own children do not find themselves in the same position. Her family forms the crux of her photographic practice — documenting her children’s development and exploring the rich ideas nested in notions of childhood. The photographer is passionate about sharing her work across digital channels, but also makes it a point to print and display images as often as she can.
“I have a few walls in our house that are covered in prints. Not framed, just prints, big and small, and I change them around from time to time, too.”
To further safeguard the longevity of her imagery, Niki also creates albums for the family bookshelf, which currently holds about 20 volumes. And she has begun to explore the photo-book format, finding the process an important extension of her existing photographic skills.
“To see images as a sequence, a narrative, as opposed to single frames, makes the whole experience very different for me; it has made me look at all my images differently,” she explains. “Sometimes, I think their meaning deepens when viewed in a strong narrative.”
Despite a clear dedication to printing, Niki still feels that she should make it a more frequent habit, saying that losing access to her digital images would definitely have a huge impact on her: “Although I would be most grateful to have the albums and hundreds of prints I have lying around the house, it would still be gutting not to be able to access it all online.”
Obviously, there are sensible processes that can be implemented to cut down on the risk of losing digital files, but nothing is ever bulletproof, as many D-Photo readers will attest. Regular backing-up of hard drives is a must, but reader Stephen Roberts knows that all it takes is a little bad luck to disrupt this common-sense practice: it still pains him to remember the hard-drive meltdown that combined with a corruption in the software running his backup process.
“Not a pretty place to be, and it ended up costing me a large amount of money,” he recalls.
We’ve heard sad stories about innocent laptop upgrades leading to unfortunate external-hard-drive complications and lost libraries, as well as internal-storage failures just ahead of school portfolios being due.
Bradie Paul got the fright of her life when she thought that she had lost the memory card containing all the images of her first grandchild’s birth. Rather than slipping the card into its usual protective pocket, she accidentally dropped it into a bag to rub against the open implements of a pocket knife.
“My heart nearly died when I discovered that,” she remembers. “I so tentatively tried the card in my computer to find [that] it was indeed corrupted: alas, woe is me, totally and utterly.”
Luckily, Bradie’s story has a happy ending. Close scrutiny revealed a bent component in the SD card, which was fixed with some careful tweezer work. Her grandchild’s first moments were recovered, but the pain of the possible loss was all too real, serving as a poignant reminder of digital fragility.
If these horror stories have you amped to begin preserving your cherished photographic memories in print, you are lucky to be living in a time when services to do just that are so accessible, powerful, and affordable. Momento Photo Books is one such service, offering an array of high-quality, easy-to-create consumer photo-book options.
A quick download of Momento’s free book-building software will have you producing custom photo books and family albums in minutes. The flexible package lets you take as much or as little control over the design as you like. If you want to get serious with your publishing, you can start a book from scratch, customizing every aspect — from orientation, size, and layout to adding frames, textures, and embellishments.
If you’re looking for the safety of a printed album but lack the time to pore over every little element of production, there is a range pre-formatted templates to choose from, as well as an auto-fill tool — you just point the program at your desired photo folder, and it takes care of everything else.
Finished books can be printed with a range of beautiful covers, including linen, leather, and printed hardcover options. The lustrous six-colour prints inside can be produced on number of premium photo papers, such as the silky Satin 170, the fine matt Eggshell 148g, and top-shelf Lay-flat Lustre 260g.
The Momento website (momento.co.nz) also offers a handy range of how-to videos and inspiring project examples to get the creative juices flowing. The versatile service has options for users of all skills and budgets, to ensure that every photographer has the opportunity to avert a “digital black hole” disaster while displaying their cherished memories in quality and style.