The digital revolution has changed so many aspects of life in the past decade, that some of the softer ones and their impacts are easy to overlook, alongside the more dramatic transformations. When it comes to photography the impact of the massive transition from film to digital was a paradigm shift a decade or so ago, when the earliest digital cameras entered consumer price brackets, and photography as a hobby exploded in new ways. Suddenly we could all take as many photos as we liked, without fear of developing costs or bad shots, and once we grasped this concept everything changed.
I have two daughters with a 5 year age gap between them, but one of the biggest differences in their early childhood was the fact that during that time our household crossed the ‘digital divide’ – ie I got my hands on my first consumer digicam (actually it was a huge heavy pro-sumer affair that cost more than my car did at the time, had a second and a half shutter lag and a max half a meg file size, but it was still revolutionary and I have always adored my gadgets).
Of my eldest, now a teenager, there exist several albums of baby photos. She was the first child, and first grandchild after all. We still lived in the UK and had plenty of snap-happy relatives around in those early days, and between us we must have gone through some plentiful reels of 35mm film back in that first year of the new millennium.
I remember taking them to be processed at Boots in the UK and getting the loyalty points back to spend on baby stuff – always opting for that extra set of prints for about a quid because, out of that wallet full of 30 or so prints, you could guarantee there would be a handful of really gorgeous classic photos. Well, this was my baby daughter so naturally they were all beautiful – but inevitably some were simply better photos than others.
The trouble was of course that we had two sets of all the rubbish ones where the autofocus didn’t or the baby moved at the wrong time or the light was all wrong, and we only had two sets of the two or three stunning classics where expression and composition and everything else came together, that everyone wanted. I seem to remember it cost an excruciating amount getting individual reprints and enlargements back then as well.
I remember when I got my hands on our very first scanner, that one of those problems were solved – slowly, noisily and unpredictably we were able to create digital images of the best ones for easy distribution, at least with the few people we knew who had email back then, with the ability to print cards and calendars for Grandma too – yes, I was an Early Adopter back then and enjoyed experimenting with various programmes that usually came on disks bundled with different bits of expensive hardware. Nothing worked with anything else, all took forever to install, and had detailed manuals larger than the box. I also recall uploading to one of the earlier social networks of the time Microsoft Communities.
By the time daughter number two came along all had changed, and we have folders and folders of images capturing her earliest moments. I remember sitting on the floor with the camera on continual shutter, precious new-born yawns like a stop-motion movie and hundreds of pictures with big sister. It didn’t matter how many frames we shot to get hold of those wonderful moments when both of them – even all four with their cousins – were looking and smiling in the right direction at the same split-second.
Or if two or three of them made a gorgeous tableau but the fourth appeared to be concentrating on filling her nappy or picking their nose, cropping and framing in simple software packages meant you could be selective – especially as available file-sizes got bigger.
‘Proper’ photographers would probably be horrified at the idea of shooting continuously and searching afterwards for the great image, rather than planning and composing and taking the perfect shot as was their art. Rather than needing to be Shakespeare drafting a master work, we are all infinite monkeys clicking away our digicams, and creating our personal masterpieces by random chance rather than craft and planning.
But whilst digital has democratised photography forever and put the perfect baby shots in the hands of parents everywhere, it hasn’t diminished the arts, simply changed it. Pros still have better gear, better skills and greater mastery of their craft than the rest of us – the craft itself has changed, that’s all.
And if I had had a third daughter after a similar interval, I guess she would be growing up with the latest paradigm of video – what was rare and difficult for the tracking of my girls’ earliest moments would now be affordable, available and ubiquitous for recording of her every move.
Who knows what the daughters of 2014 will use to track, record and celebrate the moments and memories that will make up their lives. It’s going to be exciting watching as they discover, create and find out.
Costa Connected, for Costa Blanca News, January 17th 2014 ©Maya Middlemiss, Casslar Consulting SL