There's a scene in Ridley Scott's science fiction film, Bladerunnner, where one of the renegade androids tells of his failure to recover his small set of personal photographs. One of these prints, found and analyzed by the hero, will move the plot forward, but, beyond that, the scene is particularly poignant for dfferent reasons.
Bladerunner, like all truly fine future-based science-fiction stories, mixes together the past, present and the future. A film print appears to be anachronism in this setting, but it serves the vital role of humanizing the genetically-engineered replicants. At the time this film was made, the early 1980s, snapshots and film prints were still by far the most prevalent form of photography. Now film is practically dead and an explosion of digital images has replaced it. The unique and tangible artifact, the print, has been replaced by infinitely reproducible images displayable on a pantheon of different devices.
I like this. Still, I feel little doubt that digitization has changed the nature of photography irrevocably, somewhat analogous to the way that the first photographs changed the nature of portrait painting. It has made the infrequent common-place and in doing so has altered the weight of the art. These days it is not uncommon for me to go out and shoot well over 100 photographs in a single day, and I will find a small subset of those to be particularly pleasing, but no more can I reproduce the particular sense of uniqueness that I associate with those solitary snapshots taken when I was much younger.
This is a loss. Even if I have much better equipment, and a considerably better knowledge of photography to compensate.
These thoughts came to me as I regarded a scan of a very old photographic print this evening. The photograph was taken sometime in the late 1970s/early 1980s. It's faded and the color-balance is off. It was taken with a cheap camera and developed by a commercial machine. None of the skills I have learned in the years since went into taking the shot. It's fairly anonymous – there is no particular resonance in the scene with some particularly significant location or event. It's just a path coming out of Chantry Wood near Guildford, Surrey, where I grew up. I walked those woods dozens of times.
Yet, for some reason, I felt drawn to the wooden seat you see in the photograph above. I blew it up, reminding myself in the process of how the grain of analog film differs from the pixels of digital images (despite the fact that what you see is a digitized version). It's fuzzy yet despite the indistinct appearance, I find myself mentally drawn to that seat. I want to sit in it and smell the fragrance of those blurred red flowers all around it. At one time, I might have actually done so – I simply don't remember. But I was there once, looking at that scene with better eyes than I have now.
A single moment in time. One of countless other moments, most of which pass by without any real engagement at all. But this moment was caught, carelessly or not so carelessly – again I simply don't recall. And here it is, a faded print from a box scanned into a computer file. It is not only a window into another time, it is also a window into another window, a different way of seeing. One I hope I do not lose.