Friday, April 22, 2016

"What will I do with them anyway?" "Throw them out, dear."

Forget about DSLRs or digital point-and-shoots. These days, anyone with a smart phone can easily shoot dozens of pictures a day. They keep piling up at a rate unprecedented in human history -- let alone the history of photography, which is less than two centuries old, and which for about half that time was amostly confined to specialists. But even in the heyday of amateur film photography there were those who wondered where it was all heading:
Long ago a picture must have been an event. Capturing a living image has become too ordinary a miracle, perhaps. They go about with their automatic-drive Nikons and OM-2's and their Leicaflexes, and put their finger on the button, and the hand-held machinery makes a noise like a big toy cricket. Reep, reep, reep, reep. A billion billion slides, projected once, labeled, and filed forever. Windrows of empty yellow boxes blow across the Gobi, the Peruvian highlands, the temple steps at Chichicastenango. The clicking and whirring and clacking is the background sound at the Acropolis, at the beach at Cannes, on the slopes at Villefranche. All the bright people, stopped in the midst of life, looking with forced smile into the lenses, then to be filed away, their colors fading as the years pass, caught there in slide trays, stack loads, view cubes, until one day the person dies and the grandchild says, "Mom, I don't know any of these people. or where they were taken even. There are jillions of them here in this big box and more in the closet. What will I do with them anyway?" 
 "Throw them out, dear."
-- John D. MacDonald, The Empty Copper Sea, 1978

What will happen to the photographic detritus of our time? Who knows? Considering how long it takes to even glance at the contents of a multi-gigabyte memory card, the answer may well be, "Throw them out, dear."

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