Photographs as Things

image-3Aperture #211—What Matters Now?

Photographs, especially personal ones, have always served as physical manifestations of memory. Held between fingers or hung on a wall, photographic prints had a direct material connection to their subjects, from light to lens to film to paper. Today, of course, our photographs are born digital. Their power as images remains, gloriously so; but their reality as objects is often lost.

In my house, these two ideas collide in the small hands of my three-year-old daughter, compulsively snapping photographs with a phone snatched off the table. She has amassed hundreds of them (mostly of fingers and floors). They are not merely weightless, but evanescent. So in an effort to fix them in the most literal way, we bought a sixty-nine-dollar wireless printer. The effect was strange: a photograph taken with one magic box was magically transferred through the air to another magic box, out of which a photograph (on paper!) slowly emerged. Up it went on the refrigerator door. The images themselves are beside the point. What I am grasping for, perhaps foolishly, is the sense of a photograph as a thing, an object of value—something to be cared for in the physical world, as we care for each other.