I was chatting to Paul last night about photographs: he recounted the tale of a small sepia picture, a treasured heirloom, passed from his grandmother to his mother. Being a digital child, he scanned it, enhanced it and reproduced it, describing his feelings as he did so: in that moment, it ceased to be singular, transient, decaying, and became permanent.
The transition from physical artefact to idea, the change from vulnerable to cloud based, was tangible to him.
We talked about permanence: in his days working in a photo processing lab he developed old rolls of family holiday snaps, describing the tears when people realised the film hadn’t caught properly, leaving their memories of children playing in the sea orphaned without supporting imagery. On one occasion, the machine chewed the film up: he went to the lab at night, smothered the whole thing in blankets and, in this closest approximation to absolute darkness, tried to salvage the memories. But to no avail: light crept in and stole the images away. Faded to white.
Today, we are used to permanence. I have over forty thousand photos on my iMac alone. We document and chart our life in colour, streamed through timelines and curated spaces.
That permanence sometimes bites us, despite Google’s reluctant efforts to censure the links away.
Frustrating as it was to copy things by hand, to wait two months to develop a film, to have to put things in the post, did we value those letters and packets of photographs more?
We have lost impermanence, but gained a lifelong story. Is it a fair trade? Have we lost something as we lost the ability to lose?