I was describing my photography business at a social function recently when someone asked me the question, ” do many of your clients order prints anymore ? Aren’t they obsolete? ” The question didn’t surprise me as I am aware that many people do not bother to print the photographs they take. “Why bother when you can see them on your computer, tablet & phone I often hear.”

It was the word obsolete that resounded in my head. I asked my talkative companion this. ” If I bought some LP records, mini discs, video tapes or cassettes to your place this evening for a  soiree of listening to and watching old memories would you have the hardware on which we could play them? ”  With a quizzical look on his face he said, ” no they’re obsolete. ”

I raised my eyebrows and looked at him smugly before I explained that if you require some type of machinery or electronic device to view media there is a strong possibility that the media will be lost forever in years to come.

Imagine climbing upstairs into an attic to sort through the belongings of a relative who has passed on and finding a box with family photos written on the outside with a marker pen. Within that box there are 3 smaller boxes. The first box contains old black and white prints from the 1930’s to 1960. Some are damaged and faded and before you realise it half an hour has passed since you started looking at them. There are even pictures of your mum and dad when they were babies! The next box contains a mixture of prints from the 70’s and 80’s and 90’s. They are interesting too although the quality of photography is not always as good as the older images, I guess a lot of the photos from the first box were taken by a professional photographer and printed on archival paper. There is also a floppy disk in the box, with a label that says ” graduation photo”, what’s a floppy disk? The last box contains CD’s which appear to have been catalogued very carefully in order of date. CD’s? You see the year now is 2030. What’s a CD? I can’t get the images from the deceased’s social media account either because I don’t have the log in details.

If you want to preserve your family history and give your descendants an insight into their origins my advice is to at least print a few of your favourite photos. No one will need a machine to look at them in years to come. There is also a  physical stimulus to memory that looking at and holding prints, particularly older ones can create. Not unlike the effect that certain smells and aromas can invoke. By printing your photos I don’t mean on an inkjet printer. You would be surprised how quickly home printed photos deteriorate. I placed one in a frame for two years and when I removed it from the frame the edges that hadn’t been exposed to light were much darker, the photo had faded. Professional labs who use the photo emulsion process are your best option.

Before digital cameras were invented photos were printed on light sensitive paper which contained silver particles that changed state when immersed in developer after being exposed to light through a negative or transparency. These images have been proven to last over 100 years. Many of the original photos taken can be found in museums all over the world.

Some professional labs still use a similar process to produce your prints. Our cameras are digital but the digital file is transposed into an image that is exposed onto light sensitive paper. The quality of these prints surpasses anything that can be produced on domestic ink jet systems or in mini labs. It’s the best of both worlds, digital capture and analogue printing. People always comment on how good my prints look, they look better than when viewed on  the $2500 monitor I use to show them on. The colour, clarity and tonal range are unmatched by anything else. The photographs will outlast any other form of digital media.

To cut a long story short, no, photographic prints are not obsolete.