Photographs (part 1)

Are they photographs or pictures? Maybe they’re images? What should we call them now? Prints?

I did a quick Google search to find out when the first camera was invented. (This is by no means actual research.) Google came up with 1685 which is weird because if you do a search for when the first photo was made… Google comes up with 1826. The search claims the photos were made of glass or metal. If you Google the first paper photograph you then come up with 1839. It was a salt print. A salt print was the earliest form of paper photograph.

As I started listing things about pictures that I was curious about, (as far as other people go), I started to have some issues. The first issue was how to go about doing a brief survey and coming up with accurate results for people 6 years old to 100 years old. One of the main issues was age. people of all different ages complete surveys in different ways now. Some prefer online surveys with an app on a social media platform or an online service like Survey Monkey. Some people prefer I hand them a printed copy of the survey to fill out. Some would like it in digital format on a program they are familiar with. Some didn’t really care, and some have never filled out a survey before and didn’t know what to expect. I thought it would be interesting to decide on one format and see how people handled it. I was surprised at the different ways in which I received the surveys back and the creativity of the people who didn’t understand how to complete it but came up with a way anyhow. It was clear that it wasn’t a product of age as much as a sign of how old a person was when they were exposed to different technologies.

We are at an age where luddites and the smartest technology buff in our families exist on the same plane. In 20 years we will probably see the luddites become extinct and we will be left with what I like to call, app gaps. People age out of learning new technology so they use what they know until the app disappears or is no longer able to update.

The second issue I had was vocabulary surrounding photographs and cameras. As I started to write the questions it became clear that I wasn’t able to form the questions correctly to get the answers I needed. I had to change the identity of the camera to a photo capturing device. Everyone owns devices that are not necessarily cameras but have cameras in them. So photo capturing devices (PCD’s) are what we are referring to. So even if it’s an actual camera, it is now a PCD.

After I received the surveys back it also became clear to me that I should have differentiated between a photograph, an image, and a picture. Most of the people surveyed understood that I was asking about images. (I hope) I consider a photograph an image but I suppose an image is only a photograph if it’s on paper? But then what of the digital frames? How do we refer to the images we look at in them? My own kids refer to images on their phones as pictures. Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, a picture was made of paper, came in an envelope and usually as duplicates.

After receiving the surveys back I also started wondering what being a photographer meant. With today’s editing software… is it necessary to have a great photographer or Is it more important to have great editing software and someone that knows how to use it? Obviously if you start with a great image the end result will be… better? Or maybe the end result will be quicker and not necessarily better.

While helping my mother with some chores it dawned on me that she has 4 totes of pictures. Pictures that reach back to when her mother and father were children. Pictures of people I’ve never met. My history? My family history. The further back in time you go while looking at photographs, the more the pictures are able to romanticize the time period. The seriousness of the picture vs a stick held high in the air to capture literally any moment in time. It used to be a sign of wealth to have family photos. Photographs portrayed significant moments in time. The end or beginnings of generations. Now they celebrate plates of spaghetti at your favorite Bistro, and your face is not in the image.

In this series I’m hoping to explore a few different ideas… When is your family history no longer history. How many generations does it take to forget your own family history? How much do people care about family history?

I want to explore the act of capturing images. To some it’s a career, a hobby, or just something fun to do. How are pictures stored? In a world so different now, we can take thousands of pictures in a year. How do people decide which ones to keep? If you never do anything with them, why take them? How has social media pushed our need for images forward?

The last thing I’d like to explore is, what will become of my moms 4 totes of pictures. What will become of your pictures? Who would 4 totes of pictures be important to in 100 years or any medium capable of storing that many images.

So follow along as I try to get some good points of view on this and try to convey the Zeitgeist of photographs.

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