With the advent of digital photography, the notion of remembering when a photograph was captured has lost its sense of necessity. Now that all digital photo files are embedded with metadata from digital cameras, and which preserves date, time, and even sometimes GPS location data, we no longer need to keep track of, or even wonder when and where images were taken.
But there is an element to the age of a photo that has been lost during this transition into the era of digital imaging. That is the disappearance of physically printed photographs, which becomes more prevalent as time goes on now that most pictures are no longer even printed at all. At one time, the excellence of a photograph was determined by its print quality. Now it has more to do with the quality of the screen it is being viewed on.
Though, when you are seeing an old printed photo that is nearing 100 years in age, there is a tangibly aged feeling and sense of time gone by that can’t be denied or replicated in the same way when you are viewing a physically unaged image on a digital monitor. It could even be described as a rare gift to be able to hold in your hands a single moment frozen in time which occurred nearly a century ago.
The particular photo that you see in this post is partially surrounded within what remains of a cardboard paper matte frame that is equally as old as the photo itself. The photograph was given to me by my father and is a picture of his grandparents taken during his parents’ wedding in 1932, which is now the oldest printed photograph I possess.
These great grandparents of mine, who I sadly never had the pleasure of meeting, were key to my family’s history as European immigrants who arrived in the late eighteen hundreds on Ellis Island in New York City with hopes of a better life in America.
Somehow, the condition of this image, together with its partially missing mount, adds to the antique feel and overall atmosphere of a precious moment in time. Other subtle elements like the archival silver-gelatin-like paper it was printed on, and how the photo paper has aged and deeply discolored over time, also play a role in the feeling you get when you submit yourself to viewing an imperfect picture from a somewhat ancient past.
Many of these elements of film and printed photographs are now becoming lost with newer photos captured during the digital photo revolution of the last 20 years. A picture shot today with a digital camera will not physically age at all over the next hundred years as their analog counterparts did in the past. Somehow that just doesn’t feel quite right.
And because the storage of digital images has become nearly effortless, limitless, and no longer takes up any physical space within your environment, I have come to appreciate the added effort it took to care for and preserve a printed photo like this via its passing down from the three previous generations before making its way on to me.
By scanning old printed photographs via computer as I have done, for viewing on high resolution screens, one is able to increase their physical size as well.
Scanning can further add to the enjoyment and nostalgia one gains by being able to easily share them digitally with others over vast distances and to better see the finer details within such old photos like this.
Around three years ago, I posted a two part story on this blog talking about the beauty of scanning and enjoying your old family photos, especially ones that may be rather small in physical printed size to begin with.
In those two posts I showed a series of old photos I scanned which were taken of my grandfather throughout his adult life. The two people seen in the 86 year old photo above are my grandfather’s parents. If you missed seeing the old photos of my grandfather in that other two-part post entitled “Fleeting Photo Moments”, then you can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
By the way, how old is the oldest printed photo that you have and what is the picture of?