Visit Instagram page of the project for more stories and BTS of the work process.
I began to pay attention to the way my attitude to printed photographs was changing when my wife Ira and I moved into our condo in Chicago. We really liked our new place which felt like a real home suggesting that we were to stay there for good. But to transform this “like home” feeling into “100% home” much still had to be done - the bare walls and empty rooms had to be filled in with our family’s soul. And this was what photography could actually do, I thought. So, we started printing and framing pictures taken during vacations we spent together, group shots with our relatives and friends, portraits of Ira I, being a professional photographer, often made. All of them were adding to our interior cosiness and individuality making the space feel really “ours”. People say that a picture is worth a thousand words, so when looking at those square small precious moments of our past lived together we both get in touch with the emotional stories our memories are ready to share.
I remember that initially the note “print and frame pictures!" was probably one of those appearing on my “to do”-list most often, but typically hectic weeks did not allow me to give numerous frames purchased at garage sales and IKEA proper attention, continuing to accumulate dust in the closet. But at the same time, somehow I was regularly finding time to keep diligently posting photos on my Instagram profile. “How come, - I started asking myself, - I manage to care so much of virtual pages instead of organizing my own place of living - something we potentially could benefit much more from?”
While growing up and developing my professional network, I gradually started to realize how depreciated the printed image was becoming. After all, I belong to the generation that saw family albums with black and white images often printed and developed in the bathroom lit with a red bulb. I clearly remember my grandmother’s family photo made in 1920s that used to hang in my parent’s house. Those studio shots pasted on thick cardboard which were then made only on special occasions - it was good if there were 1-2 photos taken within a year. Having a camera was a rare luxury, and photographers were still sought serious recognition of their work seen on a par with paintings and other forms of art. Nowadays, with boosted development of digital equipment and pervasive ability of anyone to make “a decent snapshot”, more and more often do I hear people saying that photography is not an art anymore.
Today’s “digital” youngsters will probably see us as an ancient history… despite having much more visual history and archives than all the previous generations combined, ironically these visual “treasures” risk leaving no tangible traces.
As a society we are now producing more photographs than ever before and the total number is becoming difficult to fathom. We are all immersed in the technological age, well and truly shooting anything and everything in the hope that those precious memories will stay with us forever. We hurry up to remember but the actual practice of “fast photography” in reality cultivates only forgetting. Thousands of pictures stored on our phones, laptops and clouds, but let’s put it straight – all your smartphone snapshots… how often do we really check and enjoy them?
For many people, a picture is only good for the moment. Parents want to snap every single movement of a newborn child’s first months. Tourists want selfies on the background of every single monument. Bloggers want to “feed” their followers with every single fancy dessert or smoothie they buy in hipster cafes. Taking photographs of food instead of eating it. Taking photos of Van Gogh’s paintings instead of contemplating them.
Reasons for taking snapshots differ but there is one thing common for them all - “autopilot” mode we switch into when photographing, our ignorance of the fact that photography does not finish with pressing the shutter. Actually, it is there where it should be starting. If digital images inevitably lose their importance a week or two after being taken (often just to make room for more pictures), printed ones continue their life fully performing photography’s initial function of memory-keeping. However, this does not happen so often. Guess how many digital images end up following their “after-smartphone life” becoming printed photos? Not so much. According to some estimations, less than 1 out of 100,000.
So, let me ask you now - when did you last print your photograph? What is your latest printed picture?
This was the question I started addressing my friends and colleagues growing interested in the potential of printed photography practice revival. Living now in the country where social networks were originally born quickly making the whole nation (and pretty soon the whole world) delegate their memories to their mobile devices than in the end were helping their owners not to remember but to forget, I had a strong feeling that my restless mind was approaching something very topical.
Photographs. Real prints - honest to goodness. Fragments of our lives that will be passed from generation to generation telling your heirs about what you looked like and what kind of life you had. These are the things we’ll protect in the first turn should some disaster strike - somehow in that moment all of a sudden a $520 DeLonghi coffee maker turns out to be not all that important.
So, in a nutshell, this is how my project was born. After addressing the question about their latest printed picture to my friends, I started collecting such stories from people I hardly knew: my neighbours, people I came across when walking my dog, delivery boys, etc. Alongside with their stories, I was also photographing them with my Instax camera thus deliberately exposing them to the fading practise of possessing photography “as an object”. The photoalbum of my new Chicago “family” was growing hopefully encouraging my project participants to rethink their attitude to photography and start approaching their memories in a different (“old-fashioned”) way.
While flipping through the pages and reading stories I have managed to collect so far, I often catch myself thinking that, amazingly, they have so many things in common. It is only names and locations that differ, but not the situations and emotions people experience and want to remember. Printed photography turned out to cultivate not the uniqueness and narcissism, but solidarity and the feeling of community. In the face of fragile and beautifully trivial life we are all the same: kissing our partners, hugging parents, starting at the sunset above a holiday sea.