Wednesday, February 29, 2012

I miss my Kodachrome

Digital Cameras are a technical improvement over film processing.  But from a social and interactive standpoint, they are a disaster.

As I noted in an earlier posting, one thing I realized, over time, was that trying to "record" events for posterity is an utter waste of time.  I realized this years ago after buying an 8mm Camcorder and discovering that I was experiencing my vacations through a viewfinder.  Moreover, no one really wanted to see the resultant videos, and they sat on a shelf.  And thanks to annual format changes, I am not sure I could even view them, without investing in some hardware - if the electronic images are not already lost for good.

What I realized is that it is better and easier to just experience things and thus enjoy real life, rather than try to record them and re-experience them later on.

My Mother left behind a closet full of 35 mm slides, taken all through her life.  During my youth, she would occasionally show the slides on a projector screen, and she and my Dad (and my siblings) would try to remember who was in the picture, what the event was, and why.  And like family photo albums or photos that are not labeled, once the principals in the photos die off, they become meaningless artifacts.  If you are going to keep this crap, at least label it.

Whatever happened to her 35mm slides and our old 8mm home movies, I do not know.   Does anyone watch them?  Probably not.  Does anyone care?  Doubtful.  After so many years, everyone's home movies look alike.

And in my lifetime, I have accumulated photo albums of old-fashioned photos, which document a lot of trivial events in my life.  No one looks at them, and I doubt even I will.  Once you've gotten over the "Gee, you weren't so fat" and "Gee, you had more hair" and "Were we ever that young?" the fun kind of wears off.  And these albums occupy an entire storage tote as large as a child's coffin.

Enter digital cameras.  Initially, these seemed like a great thing - freeing us from the hassle and expense of buying film.  And now we could store these images digitally, which would take up a lot less space.  But instead, other things have happened.

To begin with, since there are no film costs and there is no incremental cost to taking a picture, we end up taking five or six of the same shots, hoping to get "a good one" out of the bunch.  As a result, taking a photo, particularly a group photo, is an ordeal of "hold it" and then pressing the button (and not the wrong button, that turns off the camera) and then waiting for the exposure and hoping no one moves in the interim.

"Wait!  Let me do that again!" is a phrase that is sure to elicit groans from the crowd.

And you don't want to use the flash.  It takes forever to charge, drains the batteries within a few shots, and tends to produce pasty-white, washed out photos that are staggeringly unattractive.

But then you get the camera home and the fun begins.  Uploading the photos is a chore - and many folks have no idea how to do this.  Photos end up being stored in hard-to-find directories with cryptic titles, like ECD465821290 which of course, was your family vacation photos from last July (You didn't know that?  Idiot!).

And of course with Windows, you have to figure out whether they are stored in "Pictures" under your user name or in the "Public" directory.  The net result is you can't find a damn thing and are left with this vague feeling that there are lost photos somewhere on your hard drive.

Many folks, of course, do not make copies onto other hard drives or back up their hard drives, or upload their photos to the Internet (about half of all Americans, make that 70% don't know how to do any of these things - even how to copy a directory from one location to another!).  So when the hard drive fails (and they all fail, eventually) they lose all their photos.

Now you've got your photos on your hard drive.  How do you view and edit them?  Use Windows' poorly thought out and planned photo editor?  Or use some other proprietary program?   Of course, the first thing you have to do is go in and manually rotate all the photos you took in portrait mode, because most digital cameras don't figure this out automatically (geez, you'd think a simple microswitch could deal with that - it works on an iPad!).

Then....what?  Displaying photos on your computer is OK, if you have a good sized monitor.  But suppose you want to show others?  So you go out and buy a digital photo frame, select pictures, upload them, and then create a slideshow.  That's fun, I guess.   Or you can go online to webshots, Picasa, or even facebook, and create albums to share with friends.

What ends up happening, of course, is that 3/4 of the photos you take, you end up throwing out.  And you lose interest in editing,  cropping, and color adjusting the rest of them.  Photography, as a hobby, really has been killed off by the digital camera.  And what kills it, is sheer boredom.

So you want to print out a photo.  Well, the inkjet printer is to the rescue - making photo-quality copies at only 2-3 times the price of photo processing.  But if you are an artist, you can make incredible art with these things.  Problem is, everyone seems to have "done" the "color adjusted" inkjet photo with the weird super-chroma colors.  It is a tired trope at this point - having oranges, reds, greens, and blues "pop out" of a photo like a cartoon.  What ever happened to Black and White?

The old model of film-and-camera, even with Polaroid, was, in some aspects, better.  Why?  Because we didn't have so many choices.    You aimed the camera, pressed the button, and hope you got a good shot.  Even professional photographers had little to do, other than to set aperture and exposure, select film speed, and perhaps do some work on the developing side.

About the only upside of the whole thing is this:  I don't have to add any more physical photos to that tomb in my garage.  They can all go on the hard drive and then evaporate from there.  And perhaps they will continue on, into eternity, on webshots or Picasa, long after I am gone.  Not that anyone will look at them then, either.

UPDATE: it turns out that the Internet isn't a good place to store photos. As my Webshots experience illustrates, new owners can take over the site and decide to erase all of your photos. Maybe that's for the best.