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History isn’t being erased, it’s just not being printed

By Damon Howell
Progress Photo Editor

    For years now, the Progress has been wrongly neglecting the printed photo, as, like most everyone, we are caught up in the digital age that scoffs at older technology -- such as plain old pictures printed on glossy paper kept in a cardboard folder.
    We can use a computer search find a trove of digital images, but frankly, it’s hard to recall the last time we dealt with a printed photo.
    A couple weeks ago was a fall clean-up around the Progress. We do it every few years and always marvel at how fast useless junk accumulates.
    Of the things headed for the landfill was a 4GB server we purchased for $5,000 a few years ago -- now you can’t find any computer with only 4 GB of memory. Other items headed to our dumpster (or recycling) included burned out computer monitors, keyboards, mice, and empty boxes; several copies of QuarkXPress (our main layout software) on floppy disks and ridiculously expensive when purchased also went into the trash. Few modern computers even have a spot to insert a floppy-disk.    
    Ironically, we kept shelf after shelf of lead lino-type, a printing technology used before almost all of our current staff started working here and many of us were even born. We kept it for nostalgic purposes; several boxes of hard-copy photos dating back to 2008 were kept. We also have many boxes in another room dating further back.
    I am having a very hard time parting with these boxes of photos even though the consensus is “everything is digital now and no one looks through hard-copy photos anymore.” I beg to differ.
    I’m guess I’m old-fashioned, because earlier I was thinking of printing all the photos our staff takes from now on. Why? Our staff takes hundreds of photos each week of different Pickens County happenings. Instead of  printing every photo on the “roll” we choose one or two and dump the rest into a digital folder, often times those alternative shots are never seen again. Will they be seen in twenty years?
    One day we will be sorry we don’t have different angles of long-standing Roper Hospital or the courthouse being demolished; or photos of the way Pickens looked before it was developed. You know how many photos The Progress has of the brick courthouse that stood where the current one is? One. I guess no one at the time thought the photos were worth keeping because everyone knew what it looked like then. No one does anymore.
    A case for prints: Advancing technology replaces digital file formats and one day your archive of secure photos will be unreadable by new technology. Hard copy photo prints can be “read” by the eye immediately without a computer. The popular photo file, JPEG, may be replaced in ten years and be like those floppy disks of QuarkXPress that were once regarded by as cutting edge.
    We use digital cameras now, and although the convenience of taking 3,000 pictures of your kid’s birthday party may produce a few undesirable pics, think about how grateful they will be when they’re sitting on the couch with their kids, flipping through the family album, not sharing on their iPhones. I know people who have years of photos backed up on their camera cards and have been promising to get prints one day. The scary thing is a digital file can get deleted or corrupted. And if that happens you lose that moment in time forever.    The cost of digital vs. film was a factor in the switch at The Progress because of the sheer volume of images produced.
    Being that the newspaper takes many pictures at an event but only uses one or two, going digital cut down tremendously on our photography budget. But the consequence of that is images of today’s Pickens County are not piling up and being preserved for future hands like our old boxes of photos.
    I am of youthful age so when I got into photography, dark room knowledge was a plus but technology was dating it with “Photoshop”. Fifteen years ago,  The Progress had just purchased its first digital camera. And in the next few years, film enthusiasts found they could no longer fight the shift. The trade was a dinosaur.
    The medium has changed many times since the first camera. In 1839, experiments were made with a glass plate caked with a light sensitive chemical. Now it’s all 0’s and 1’s. How much will it change in the next 173 years, and will we have the historic documents in a readable format to show the advancements?
    So, in the new year, resolve to remember all those things in your past that have been worthy of a picture. If you have photos digitally, get prints made. Prints will allow future generations to revel in those joys as well.