I’ve read a few articles recently which talked about the risks to a digital legacy. The crux and central theme of these views are that if we create a purely digital portfolio as photographers then eventually this is at real risk of being lost, more so, it’s pretty much guaranteed. All the backups in the world won’t protect your photography if no one else knows how to easily view or access it after you’re gone – our paranoia with web security and using cheap cloud based services utilising some faceless corporate servers somewhere are adding to these issues too. I’ve certainly sat up and paid attention to this sentiment – it all seems so utterly pointless if all we do as photographers is create JPEGs that even our own family take little more than a passing or casual interest in. Once you’re gone, that vital link to your work is also gone – and will anyone really care? Even if they do all will inevitably be easily lost on some hard drive which gets dropped in a landfill soon enough. Personally I’m now compelled to create more than fresh air for my efforts…
This point is particularly well made with the Vivian Maier discovery; 100,000 photographs seemingly hidden away for decades in storage were discovered and of course this was only possible because she created a physical printed archive of her work (though a large amount of it was undeveloped film too). It doesn’t matter whether you relate to her work or not, or even whether she sought notoriety or not, she’s now being placed on a mantle as a master street photographer by others – there’s a real story here with plenty of mystery, not least because she’s recorded a side of life long forgotten, barely seen, yet compelling compositions of the human race from a time passed. It’s worth keeping, preserving and looking at again.
In a similar vein, my father was a great water colour artist who unfortunately died suddenly in 1990. My view of his artistic talent is not just a vague memory or romantic notion I have from childhood, 25 years on some of his pictures are on my walls and they are a constant reminder of his artistic legacy and impressions which are deep-rooted in me. I don’t care whether anyone else agrees with my view of his skill or not either, for me the evidence is physically there, one of my favourites which I call Canadian Birches, (painted in 1967 which makes it very nearly 50 years old already), is also probably the reason why I’m compelled to photograph so many trees.
So what am I creating artistically for my children and others to remember me by? Not enough is the simple answer; I want to leave behind something more than a couple of magazine covers and printed articles, nice as they are. I’ve got a tiny physical legacy of printed pictures and it’s time that was brought swiftly into focus. The irony is I love the entire end to end process from image capture to printing and framing, but as with so many other photographers I fall short of producing the final physical article even though I continue to take ever more photographs. So why the reluctance to print? Have we fooled ourselves into believing that digital photography is somehow cheap, disposable and therefore worthless? I do wonder. Landscape photographers who remain committed to film seem to do the same too though – I see many pictures of freezers full of unused film, even once exposed and developed they end up drum scanned and turned into a digital product. Exactly what sort of legacy is it that we are creating for the next generation?
I’ve started to evaluate the excuses I’ve made for myself. Part of the problem I’ve convinced myself with is available wall space – there’s only so much real estate in my house for 80cm x 60cm size frames (I like my prints big) but not everything needs to be framed and given wall space – there are other solutions to answer that. Secondly, I’ve always told myself that there’s an element of narcissism about printing and framing your own work for your own walls. I can’t quite shed that feeling yet, instead I’ve steadily bought a few prints from some of the landscape photographers I admire to serve as further inspiration and avoid an inward-looking world of self satisfaction.
But that’s just not good enough for all of the reasons set out already. So what’s the answer? Well if like me you’re not expecting anyone to kick down your door any time soon with an offer to publish your work in a book, it’s very simple – you have to take ownership, accountability and address this for yourself as an artist. I’ve started to believe that it’s almost your duty as a photographer to create a printed product and so it is I’ve begun to construct what I hope will be a series of printed portfolios whilst working on building towards exhibitions of framed work.
I’m certainly having to overcome those feelings on narcissism, I’ve declared 2015 my ‘year of print’ and started to print and frame with a lot more purpose. Funnily enough, the more I print, the more I’m enjoying it, building confidence that more rather than less is definitely required. I don’t care what it costs either, suddenly this whole aspect of my photography feels very important, not helped by some of those nagging mid-life crisis thoughts which sit in the back of my mind at night. At least my Backwater series is something my wife is happier to have on the walls around the house as generic art, which means already it has a chance of being regarded as something with residual keepsake value should I not reach the ripe old age I have in mind for myself.
Look out for Part 2 in this series where I go further into product design, selection and my first printed portfolio…