As I was growing up, my mom had a wall that was filled with big things. They actually weren’t big in size. Nothing was larger than an 8×10, maybe 11×14 framed, but they held big ideas. The image of my grandfather and his nanny was no bigger than the size of my hand, but I remember walking up to the fourth step to get a closer look at it. Or the image of me in my first bath. They were images she treasured. Later the wall was filled with more images, ones of her second marriage and stepchildren as well as a progression me coming into adulthood. It made you walk up the stairs a little slower than normal. Helped you slow down and remember things that were important. Now that I have children of my own, I understand the need to have things that slow you down a little.
Printing does that. It’s tangible. They can be stored in an album, but even on the shelf, they beg to be opened and viewed. It’s something that digital just doesn’t satisfy. Stuffed in an imaginary cloud, it’s really only a series of numbers until it is in printed form laying in small hands.
Here is the tear jerker part of this story. For years this event has drifted in and out of my head, a constant reminder of how important the tangible really is.
Years ago, I was working at a portrait studio, when an 18-year-old walked in. It’s not typical for High School students to come in for their senior portraits alone, but here he was with his friend and his skateboard. So for 30 minutes, we talked while I snapped pictures. I don’t remember what exactly we talked about. I know he was talented on his skateboard. I remember thinking this kid was going to do things. After the session was over, I thanked him for coming in. I’m pretty sure it was a mutual feeling: the session was fun, laid back and we had gotten some great images.
It was months later that his mom came into the studio. Her son was killed in a car accident. I felt my heart sank. My eyes filled with tears. Even with photographing hundreds of others over past few months, I could still remember the images we had gotten. The images we took that day were the last professional portraits he had before he passed.
This story has followed me. Haunted me even. I have two boys now and there are moments that I realize life is delicate. They happen in the midst of the chaos sometimes. Or late at night when I’m in bed.
So if I could say one thing, if you read nothing else in this post, read this:
It’s costly, I know. But we spend hundreds on our home decor, clothes, coffee…. In 18 years, all of it won’t matter. You won’t remember the delicious Starbucks Latte you had after a sleepless night of a teething fit. You won’t have the Anthropology wrap dress you just bought. But if you print all those snapshots on your phone…. Those will hide in a box up on a shelf. You will pull them down when he meets his first girlfriend. You will sort through the ones that go in the slideshow at her wedding. And when their children are over, they will sit with you quietly as you turn the pages in the photo album and tell a little story of when mom and dad were their age. And it will be priceless.
So pass on the Starbucks this week and go print. Settle on the target dress for your summer event and take your memory card to the nearest print lab. Or simply sit at the computer tonight and pull images out of your cloud in the cyber world and get them on paper. I guarantee their value will only increase.