Today we are inundated with pictures. They are photographs in the most basic sense — a graph of light and shadows.
In its infancy, a photograph was a combination of visual skill and a mastery of chemistry and sensitometry combined: light sensitive material applied to a substrate, exposed to light from a lens, inside a dark box. It was then developed in darkness with a combination of chemicals that changed the density according to the amount of light that hit the surface of that light sensitive emulsion, after which it was put through another chemical to remove the unaffected areas of that emulsion.
That was the “graph” of light left behind. A moment frozen in time drawn with a lens and light. Not as easy as taking a selfie. As a matter of fact, in the early days, it was called “making a photograph,” not taking a picture.
Either way, the end result is still a moment frozen in time to be remembered and in some cases cherished. It helps us remember a time, place, or even the emotion of a moment preserved.
Today, however, the photograph has become almost indistinguishably commonplace, a blur of a thousand images on a hand-held device, stored in a massive data warehouse where billions of people’s memories are an archive of daily human life, not as something to hold or pass down through generations. They are merely electrons, fragile and only held together by micro-thread graphs on spinning disks. You won’t find these in an attic or a shoebox.
So, what is the purpose of a photograph? The photograph is a testament of daily life; in some cases that can be as simple as a child’s first — first day, first step, first tooth, or first drawing, recorded and saved. It can be the document of an historical world event as a reminder that we are part of a something much bigger than ourselves.
Beyond these above examples, a photo can be a moment so decisive that it defines the fleeting essence of life itself. Those are in the realm of the Pulitzer Prizes, which were established by Joseph Pulitzer for journalism beginning in 1917. Later, in 1942, photography was included for the first time. These photographs are the most defining moments of our time globally. These are the images of history, and for that it has great purpose.
Every photograph has a purpose, and that moment in time that has been captured is proof of a time past. The photograph is a key that unlocks a memory, to reflect and re-experience a moment. Reflecting on the past is always a multi-emotional experience. Save those moments as prints in an album or shoebox as a testament to your history because one day those precious electrons stored in that giant digital warehouse may no longer be accessible.