Is the digital always the best?

I have recently had a little time to go through the family archives. And of course I started looking through the really old pictures; those from before the war. And I don’t mean the martial law or September 1939. Pictures on the one hand beautiful, on the other stiff, artificial, posed, glued to a stiff piece of cardboard corresponding so well with the stiffness of the pose. Photographs always bring a lot of thoughts, emotions, feelings to me, I always find something in them that I have never noticed before. This time the ‘revelation’ was hidden on the flip side of the photographs; the repeated inscriptions ‘negatives are being stored’. Exactly. Negatives are being stored, there is something that one can come back to, an original from which the print can be reprinted in case. Or simply, whenever you need another copy. Of course, today, after a number of wars and once a few generations have passed, neither the photographer’s in which the image was shot nor the negative is there; I still remember, however, the stories told by my grandparents who would go back to the photographer years after the original shoot in order to have additional prints made.

This also brought to mind the discoveries made every now and then in the cellars of buildings leveled with the ground during the Warsaw uprising where, to everyone’s surprise, whole collections of pre-war glass plate negatives in a surprisingly good condition were found.  Negatives that tell us stories both mysterious and long forgotten.

Then my good friends came to mind with the shock they went through about a year ago when it turned out that they will never again see the pictures from their wedding; the photographer gave them the pictures on a CD, they didn’t make prints because… somehow they never got round to doing it and the CD stopped working after a mere year. In the meantime the photographer’s HDD malfunctioned (or maybe he just told them that rather than admitting that he had cleaned it) and all they were left with was a low resolution slide show incorporated in the film from the wedding. No negative, nothing to go back to.

And so, I realized that in all this fascination accompanying the arrival of digital photography, photography lost one of its key roles: the role of documenting our lives in a more or less permanent manner.