It has dawned upon me on more than one occasion that I have nothing from that era. Nothing left to show from it.
I entered college, as does everyone, with a sense of wonderment. And anxiety. What would the future hold for me? Would I fit in? Would this eventually be okay…?
Not long after starting, I grabbed one of the few things in my possession that grounded me to my past and which marked my identity – my camera… and headed to a meeting of all those interested in working at the school newspaper. Thinking that I would need to claw my way in, to prove my worth in a crowded field… I brought a small portfolio of my high school work and processed up to the table with the long haired hipster (an odd site in the early 1980s) editor and introduced myself. Seeing I was holding a well worn Pentax K1000, he said: “You’re a photographer?” Before I could deliver my much rehearsed elevator speech, he continued: “Can you cover the basketball game tonight?” I was in.
By the end of that first year, I was co-photo editor of the paper and never looked back. That gave me immediate access to all sporting events, including court-side passes at the old Boston Garden for the really big games. I watched Doug Flutie eviscerate my team on his way to the Heisman Trophy. I gained front row seating at school shows. I mingled with administrators and faculty at fancy cocktail receptions. I was in.
The best part, though? A building key and special 24/7 access to a sprawling darkroom on the third floor of the campus center. A facility no one else used, not even my co-editor who preferred to shoot and let me do all the developing. I spent hours in that place, bringing images to life in pulsating chemical-suffused water under a dim red glow. The images came to life onto paper, hung drying from racks of wire lines that enveloped me. It was a bliss.
… I look back with faded memory only. No images from that era remain. No photographs linger. It’s recollection only. I saved nothing.
But a few weeks ago, my kids were rummaging through some old boxes and out popped one image. I remember shooting it. I remember developing it. It ran in the school paper. It holds no particular distinction as being one of my better shots. But it holds the highest distinction of being the only one that remains. And so now, it is treasured.
Which gets me to the main point here. We live in a golden age of photography. We shoot countless photos daily, most if not all with our phones. These are posted on social media and stored somewhere in a nebulous cloud. They exist. But will they in 30 years? Will they in 10?
We stock images on our hard drives. We only print the very few that adorn the walls of our homes. Most of the rest exist only in electrons, within digital dust. We have seen this all before. Digital formats change. Old media dies. Whatever happened to the files you stored on five and a quarter floppies? Some of you reading this will have no idea what that even means.
But we must preserve. Photos of loved ones who will one day be gone exist in some cases only within that digital dust. We must print.
We must print. Photo books are easy to prepare, inexpensive to produce. And they will last. They endure. It’s worth the effort. And someday, we’ll be thankful for it…