I have been a shutterbug for a while. Well, that is an understatement. I have had a camera and been shooting pictures since my early teens. I started with my grandfather’s ancient Canon SLR (he brought it back after a tour of duty in Japan. It had the “Canon” logo ground off to get it past customs) and literally thousands of rolls of film later I am fully immersed into the world of digital photography.
But a recent death in the family, and my role as the trustee of the estate have me questioning photography.
No, not the practice of capturing pleasing images for future viewing, but the era of film photography. Sure, the Ansel Adam’s of the world whose iconic images evoke pleasure and reactions from the general population, but those holiday or vacation snaps.
My stepfather was an enthusiastic shutterbug, always having his trusty Minolta camera in his hands. In fact, most of my memories of him was with a camera in his hands fiddling with the shutter, focus, or changing lenses. The ultimate output of this hobby is that as trustee of his estate, I am sorting through tens of thousands of images. Mostly slides, those ubiquitous 2″x2″ squares processed by Kodak.
However, once they are scanned, and I review them, sort, process, and package them for the rest of the family to download, I now need to do something with this growing mountain of slides.
It seems such a pity to toss them out, but they aren’t recyclable. Sure, I can remove them from their boxes and trays (at least the Salvation Army will take the slide trays), but that led to two trash bags full of slides (and I have one more – at least – to scan) to dispose of.
What a waste. But it does get me to the point of this post, at last: Personal photography was a poster-child of consumerism and material goods.
Think about it, anyone with a camera, a roll of film, and the money to process that film, could capture about any image for posterity. We all think we are the next Ansel Adams, or Andrew Wheeler, taking iconic images that are admired and seen in galleries around the world, but in reality, even with autoexposure, computerized focus, and truly epic optics, much of what is taken by photographers is schlock.
For example, one of the cartons of slides I scanned, and post processed was… my grandmother’s retirement. Seriously, that was 1985, and it was a room full of nobody we knew, except for a couple of aunts and cousins…
The first batch worked out to a bit over 18 gigabytes, the second batch, coming soon, will be as bit or bigger.
Still, I can’t get around how wasteful the era of film photography really was. Sure it was empowering. “Capture your Memories!” “Kodak Moments” and other slogans drove the proliferation of instamatics, polaroids, Kodak Disc cameras, and a lot of consumer grade SLR’s.
But it also drove mountains of images, process with nasty chemicals, and now, surviving children scratching their heads as to why the hell you took THAT picture.
Not that the digital era means people are better at taking pictures, or more frugal with the shutter – they aren’t – but at least the images are just bits on a disk, or in the cloud, and not likely to end up in a landfill.
Excuse me while I get back to sorting through more than 11,000 pictures to find a few gems to save.Jennifer Trovato