Digital vs Print Photography, Killing Time in Jakarta.


For years I’d carried around a photo album, blue in color, a picturesque mountain scene adorned its cover, earth tones of course, a lithograph I believe. Three ringed, cellophane covers over sticky pages to hold in those captured moments.

The vessel, to contain these memories, was painstakingly selected from a large corrugated cardboard box holding many like it, but none other within could hold true to the journey recently completed. A salmon colored binder, emblazoned with a bouquet of flowers obviously could not relay the proper initial excitement to those who would look through its inner workings, to be presented with another’s personal history.

Children frolicking in the park or a plump baby, a wingless cherub smiling between bouts of crying, dried snot having been cleaned away, likewise offered the wrong message to the viewer.

Like a musician rifling through boxes of paperboard covers full of vinyl records, pulling one up from amongst the many, tipping it forward slightly assessing its worthiness, making a mental calculation, “What does it say?” and “Will it aptly describe the experience?”

“This won’t do.” or “Hell no! What’s a fluffy cat chasing a ball of yarn got to do with it?” Letting it drop back into its slot, fingering through the row of next possibilities, the hopeful search continues….

Although I can’t recall specifically purchasing the blue binder, I know the process well. It would repeat itself over and over as my adventures grew.

My first photo album was special, no less than a birth of a child in significance. Far more important than that first new car and the smells that would come from each. I would look in no less than five stores, on a mission that would take a good week or two, if not more.

Drug stores and super markets would have a small section in each holding photo albums. It was where undeveloped film was dropped off, where the three day wait and anticipation began. If you were lucky you beat the pickup time for that day. If you were “good” you knew the pickup time already and could get the master pieces back in two!

Anxiety set in…

“How many would be blurred?”

“How many could house the gravity of the moment experienced?”

Likewise, once you had printed your name and address on the envelope, sealed the film canister inside and with great care, lovingly slid the package into the slot ensuring it made it into the basket below or was certain to not be damaged in any way, the countdown began.

The pickup and delivery time charts would have been checked repeatedly. Special note to the Sunday or other day of the week when a driver did not come by was verified, probably twice if not three times.

“Wednesday at 3pm it would be.” You would be there at 2:30 just in case the driver was having a good day.

The day and time would arrive, give the attendant the perforated tab you had ripped off. This is of course if you hadn’t lost it! It could take the clerk a couple more precious moments to leaf through the baskets holding other’s cherished memories. Seconds counted, minutes were unacceptable.

Pay the bill, no swiping of a plastic card. Money still existed in paper form, coins weighed down your pockets or formed a heavy pile in the bottom of women’s purses, to be dug out from amongst all the other necessities of living. Lint and gum wrappers to be cleaned out from the handful retrieved.

Mailer in hand, success at last! Let the fun and agony begin.

Tear the gummed up tap open, this was its second time being opened. The paper was still nearly pristine. Many more times this would happen, strands of hair had yet to be stuck between the sheets. Dirt of unknown origins had yet to turn the sticky tab and opposite side paper a mysterious brown.

Pull out the envelope, easily worth its weight in gold at this point, out. Start flicking through the photos. Duplicates of course, sending the developed film back for copies cost more.

Ha, “zombies” walking blindly down the street, faces planted firmly in a smartphone screen, bumping into people, trees, shopping carts or catching their balance after stepping off an unsuspecting curb… that phenomena we know of today, that is nothing new.

Millennials back off! Us GenXers, having just retrieved our developed film and completely oblivious to our surroundings, own this one. Sorry, you didn’t bring this bane or triumph of modern society to the world, it’s been done before.

Flip. View. Flip. View. Maybe the photographs are splayed out in one’s hand like a magician offering you a card to select for some trick.

What memories have been preserved for all of eternity?

Then it happens.

“Oh…..”

Turn it 90 degrees. Look again. Squint, nothing.

Rotate it once again, “Is that….No.”

Rotate it once more, move it away from you. Bring it in closer again. Repeat.

Then, the discovery… Columbus has spotted America.

“Yep. My pocket. It has to be.” Another misfire! A wasted chance at capturing a grandiose mountain scape. A million words lost…

And this is how it was. One never knew what was captured when the shot was taken. No screen to view. No “erase” button. Polaroids hadn’t become trendy yet, having passed into a bygone time and Andre 3000 wouldn’t be shaking anything for another 10 years. You were stuck with your fortune or your fuck ups, professionals and amateurs alike.

Long before digital photography and Retina displays, memories had mass, they could be touched. Each picture told a million words, if not more, and you could feel them like ink on a page weaving together a tale.

One couldn’t tell a story of adventure from a single picture frame. A photo album was needed, one for each collective experience and not just any one would do. They needed to be as unique and as fitting as possible.

And I could go on… but I’m getting bored of this exercise. But a person must write if one were to ever become a writer themselves. 😀

Visit my Photography Page or my Instagram account to see images from all around the world.

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