Don’t Disappear – The Power of Print

I want to share with you how important it is to print your photographs.  I’m guilty myself and am currently putting together 5 years of photographs of my sons first 5 years of life before our next little one arrives!  I could think of no better, more articulate or passionate person to remind us of the importance of making and printing our photographs than David A Williams.

David is a Master of photography and print and was my mentor when I first embarked on my photographic journey over 13 years ago.  He really fired up my love of photography and taught me the importance of what we do as photographers and the power of print. There is no way I would be where I am today without his enthusiasm, guidance and knowledge.  Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us David and your very personal memories.
Almost two years ago, Sarah asked me to write about the importance of having photographs printed. I spent a ridiculous amount of time procrastinating – other people could write better messages – I was still in pain years after my parents dying….and yet the importance of family photography is almost something sacred to me.

We all too often remember out parents as grandparents. Very rarely will we be over-saturated with images of them as young vital people. We almost never see an embrace, a mid-joke moment, or the tenderness of them – the kindness of them. Time has placed constraints on what was photographed vs what was remembered and felt.

My favorite photograph of my beloved Grandfather Sydney and my good self aged three – in our matching striped pyjamas, tartan dressing gowns and matching brilliantined white hair does not exist except in my head. When I die, that image will disappear forever. Grandpa Syd will disappear forever.

It was not taken. The photograph was not taken. Amongst so many other photographs that were made – this was not. All ‘we’ have is the ‘neurochrome’. And yet it’s imaginary loss aches.

And yet, every day we as professionals are asked for the most ephemeral medium, the most transient, the most affected by technology, and the most invisible form of image storage ever invented by man. The digital file.

Every day, more people lose their history as a hard drive crashes, as a laptop gets stolen. Every day, less portraits of loved ones appear in frames on the mantle or table as a constant, tangible reminder that people we love exist, used to exist – but remain in our eyes and minds.

Every morning I walk past this photograph. As a mature man, I understand my father as man – loving this woman, gasping at her beauty and wanting her. It is special to me because it is a portrait of my mother – done in Hollywood style – sixth months pregnant with me. My father believed with considerable evidence that women had a particular beauty at that time. His love, his wife most certainly did.

My sister was first. I had no say in the matter – turning up as I did three years later. It always interests me how you can hold a photograph in your hands, and tell pretty much where it was taken. This image of my sister Mandy is a no-brainer – Australia. Victoria. Melbourne. North Balwyn. My mother’s hand give scale to how old Mandy was. The dresses of all of the frames occupants tells us the period.

The last image of my mother leaning on the token gate says much. Behind is the house Mandy and I grew up in. My parents left it long after we did. Its structure didn’t change, but the garden did. In these days of everyone’s gardens being looked after, ours was created out of the clay and building detritus of a new estate in the 1950’s. Men had sheds and made things. Women made babies, homes and families.

How can I tell you what I see in these few images? How can I tell you what I feel? …My parents are dead. My Dad died at the age of 96, my Mum succumbed to Alzheimer’s nearer to 76. Of all the catastrophes you wish on your enemies, you never wish Alzheimer’s or Dementia on their loved ones.

My mother struggled with the loss of thought, and the increasing strangeness of deeds and actions for almost seven years. My father did what he could and in the nature of his generation somehow sought to cover it up or hope against all hope it would go away, and the girl he married would be back again.

But she never did return. On visits he made to the home where she was tenderly looked after by the true saints of this earth, she believed he was her father come to take her home – even though she couldn’t bear to be away from her new family inside the locked ward.

This was a woman who made her own clothes with the perfection of a couture, who every day coaxed her hear into a French roll pinned to perfection. Who always had intellect, wit, humour, warmth and care enough for many.

My last view of my mother was one I never wanted to remember. It was of a disheveled, disorientated, mute and distressed person that somehow (through all that) new me….somehow.

And I swore to myself, that the last vision was not the one I could live with, nor was it what she deserved after existing in the world with grace, integrity and genuine warmth. But where was she?

That’s when I understood the true value of the family photograph collection. The formals, the snaps – all of it. She existed. My father existed. My Grandfather existed and my sister – thankfully – graces a family of her own making.

This history was immediately accessible. It was printed. Think long and hard about this:

I can hold my parents in my hand. I have a physical connection to them. They touched and treasured these photographs.

Every single damned time I address large groups of people about this subject, more than a few people tell me of their loss of their own parents. A greater number share the experience of loss of their digital files with me.

One photographer friend shared with me a story that will stay with me always. A friend of his was struggling with his beloved wife’s early onset of Alzheimer’s. He made a portrait of them before she had completely succumbed, and provided them with an 8×10 print for her in her care center.

She does not let go. It is regularly worn down to a two-inch circle from the constant handling, and gets replaced. It cannot be framed, but must be in her hands.

Observing my mother’s decline, I can only describe it as slowly drowning. I fully understand the need for tactile connection. I understand its importance to us. I don’t think we can ever hold onto a disc, or a usb drive and feel the same connection – or fill the same void.

Today, we are too busy. We actually worship the cult of ‘Busy’. We cannot take time to simply experience. We have to make a quick snap with our phones and file it away in ‘invisible land’ for some future retrieval which in our heart of hearts we know we won’t do.

Because the moment has gone with us disconnected from it by a transient device. How many people do we see now at a concert recording the concert….to enjoy when?

We think the screen image is enough, but all we hold is the phone. The phone holds many things, and time is too short – even though we never appreciate how short.

One day we understand.

For so many of us, the printed photograph is there for us to appreciate differently, tactily, with reverence. For us with only files – we flip through with the same distance and disconnect as viewing the Netflix menu.

All of us have photographs. But not all of us have prints.

We make every excuse as to why we can’t be photographed – too fat, not dressed right – ‘hate having my picture taken’ without realizing that (except for the vacuous ‘selfie’) people ask for our photograph because they LOVE us and don’t want to forget us.

Part of your job on earth is to leave a mark. To leave a history. Printed photographs do that. People long deceased are still viewed by us with reverence, respect and love.

In the last year, more photographs were made than in the entire history of photography. Sadly, fewer photographs were printed than in the entire history of photography.

We are allowing ourselves and those we love to be erased.

Don’t disappear.



David Anthony Williams M.Photog. II, FRPS.

Toronto via Australia – July 4th 2016

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