Family Portraits to Live With

Why Do We Need Museums When We Have Our iPads and Laptops?

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My Dad in a Langhorne Pennsylvania cafe, March 2018. I have coffee with him every workday morning — when I see him on my desk in a framed photograph.

The photograph above is a portrait of my dad, sitting at the breakfast table in a small cafe. I took it when I went to Pennsylvania for a visit. This is him sharing time with me. It’s printed and framed on my desk and I get to see him every day when I’m at work.

I made his portrait with a 1950’s-era Rolleiflex 6x6 camera and Ilford HP5 black and white film. I know where this photograph will be in fifty years; maybe a little faded but still in its frame. It will not be lost on an old hard-drive or due to obsolescence.

To me, this is what photography is — capturing memories and then being able to keep those that matter most to you close by. A simple framed photograph does that very well.

But the ease of digital photography has made it so that most people keep all their photographs in file format.  This file of my film portrait of my Dad, from a digital scan of the negative, is stored in my computer. It’s safe, perhaps, unless there is a hardware failure, but I cannot experience it as a file every day like I do a framed print.

There’s a serious need for printing our photographs so the most important people in our world are always with us.  But why print them, most people ask?

Asking that question is like saying, “Why do we need museums, when we see the images, photographs, paintings, on our iPad or computer?” Because mobile devices are good for making a travelling photo album, and sharing our photos at lunch with friends.  The problem is they don’t create a “place” for them. They only create a “glimpse” of them. But our family members are worth more than a glimpse, they’re worth a permanent place in our world.  Surrounding us. Enveloping us.

In a frame on our desk.

Years ago, I remember going to my Grandpop’s and Grandmom’s house. There were photographs of relatives, friends, and family members filling the rooms. Beautiful, quality prints; formal portraits, and family snapshots. On the walls and in boxes, which were a treat to pick through.

Nowadays, I don’t see photographs at people’s houses. That’s the part that makes me sad. Some of our parents and grandparents are at the end of their lives. We don’t have much time left to create frame-able images which we can keep by our side to remember them by.

As a portrait photographer, the only commissions I get nowadays are for business portraits — headshots for LinkedIn and corporate use. Families aren’t ordering individual portraits anymore.

Where are the good pictures being made?  It’s not on a phone, because a wide-angle lens, as all phones have, is not a flattering lens for portraiture. In fact, plastic surgery is on the rise for people who want nose jobs because of the effect of the wide-angle lens on their phone and their image in selfies!

We are living in a transformative time, with technology changing the way we do things at a rapid pace. But just as things speed up, there is a push to slow down.

There are more people embracing film photography today than there were just a few years ago. Turns out that we want something tangible, something that we have the power to create and hold in our hands. To slow down the process and make memorable photographs.  

Just like there is a slow food movement, and record sales are on the rise, there’s an anti-digital component at play. Everything doesn’t have to be the fastest to be enjoyed.

Playing a record is more time-consuming than programming Pandora, but maybe I like the sound of my turntable, that warm analog sound, and I just want to play one full Led Zeppelin album, not have to choose from among every song ever written. Maybe I just want to play a record, not program on a computer.

A few years back, bookstores were concerned about losing out to digital e-readers and ebook sales, and the truth is they’re still going strong.  Because people like to hold a single book, not every book they own on one small device. They say on an e-reader, there is a temptation to not read what they’re reading, but instead looking for what else they can be reading since their options are endless.

Below are the photographs of my parents whom I get to live with. They are a part of a physical photo album. They are the memories of who my parents are. Although my mom is no longer with us, she is right here with me in these images.

Do you have a fine, framed portrait of your parent, one that captures their personality and their light, the one image that will be passed down to great-grandchildren, to learn about the family, and what they looked like? If not, perhaps it’s time to make one soon.

I hope we will see a renewed interest in quality photography and framed prints in the years to come.