The real joy of printed photographs

Photography: Bryan Gosline

Have you ever had a clear out of your room, your attic or chest of drawers and found photos of you when you were small? You know the ones – massive dusty albums, glossy pictures that were actually printed on something? In the bath, making snow angels wrapped up in limitless layers of coats, hats and scarves, frolicking about in a few millimetres of snow?

Photos where you couldn’t mask over the spots you had in Photoshop, or make your boobs look bigger or your skin more tanned. Photos where the only way you could change anything was in a dark-room, which I’ll admit, I have no clue how to use.

But most importantly, they were actually printed, on proper paper. Usually glossy. Also usually warned fiercely by Dad not to touch the edges of the picture and smudge then, on pain of death. That was the reality. Holding onto a photograph, holding onto a memory.

One of my favourite recent memories of my family is all of us crowded around photograph albums a few weeks before I went to university, pouring over pictures of us my sister and I from when we were born up to the age of about 13. All neatly filed and organised away in the attic – they weren’t seen a lot – but when they were, the emotions sparked by them pulled our family together as if we never knew the meaning of the word.

Going through old photo albums is partially becoming a lost phenomenon with the digital age. Of course, all professional photographers, those stuck in the dark ages of film and obsessive mothers with alphabetically and chronologically ordered childhood pictures feel the need to develop photos, but the majority of us, sadly, don’t anymore.

Why bother? They’re all on Facebook. The internet – supposedly – will be around for ever, so there’s no need to print them out when I can flick through them online. And my friends’ ones. And my cousins’. And basically anyone I want. Right?

Noting when I cleared out my room that firstly, I had a stack of photography magazines that I hadn’t read for ages, and secondly that the photo frames on my window sill hadn’t been updated for years – and even then they were just print-outs from my first digital camera – I decided that the time had come for printed photographs to make a decidedly snappy comeback.

A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I picked up a disposable film camera from Sainsbury’s and spent a few days wandering around Leamington taking pictures of… well whatever really. Us, the flat, the scenery… anything. After using a big SLR with zoom and decent flash for a few years, going back to a disposable was quite a shock, if not a challenge!

We developed them soon after, ending up with a few nice coupley ones, a couple of us dancing around Stratford-Upon-Avon and a few rather embarrassing ones, including a shot of my arse sitting on the sofa next to my laptop charger (which will never, I repeat, never, be uploaded to Facebook as long as anyone will live).

The plan is to put them in some frames and albums, and actually make some use of them. The problem is that too many photos remain stuck on the internet on myFace or BeBook or something else, or permanently attached to hard-drives and never seen. What if either of the two were to crash, and 5 years of unprinted pictures online were wiped from existence?

Photos online are now more about showing off than remembering. So many pictures shout ‘look how cool I am jumping off a boat/at this popular persons’ party/shaking hands with David Cameron’ etc rather than giving yourself a record of a great experience.

My Mother’s solution to this ‘digital revolution’ a few years back was a digital photo-frame, which was used for a bit before being tucked up away in a small drawer somewhere. It was nice while it lasted, but fairly short-lived and drained electricity. It never really replaced the value of those printed photos either.

Glossy, printed, real photos are priceless, and well worth the fun and £7.99 printing cost. [Snapfish.com do prints and often promote offers for dirt cheap too, if you’re looking.] Sitting on the sofa with my family, giggling over the funny photos, cringing over the embarrassing ones and tearing up over the sad ones – that’s what we should expect to get out of taking photos, printing them out, and actually holding them. The emotion has been lost in computers, the internet, comments and likes, which can’t ever replace the emotions felt when remembering the past, the people, the places. Photographs are a way of recording the past so we can remember it in the future, when it seems a bit misty and far away. To compare our past to our present, to see how far we’ve come, how immature and stupid we used to be. To make us laugh, smirk, think or weep. The real joy of printed photos is just that, the feeling.

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