|TIME, Top 10 Photos of 2012|
We currently take as many photographs in a single year as photographers did throughout the entirety of the 19th century. This tidbit and the above statistic aren't as unbelievable when you realize how slow photography was in the 1800s. I have been the subject of wet-plate collodion/tintype photographs (the dominant process in the 1800s, invented around the 1850s), and it takes about ten minutes from start to finish to make a single image with the process. Even 20th Century photography was much slower than digital photography is now; one hour photo shops gave you thirty-six prints per roll of film, tops. And that doesn't take into account the time spent out photographing.
Digital cameras and smartphones allow us to make images without any comparable constraint to volume. In an hour, a professional digital photographer can realistically make upwards of a thousand photographs in the field. With wet-plate collodion, including set-up and tear-down time for the portable darkroom, the photographer is lucky to make four.
But the very nature of digital photographs leads to interesting questions about their survivability and persistence in a historical sense. Old-school darkroom photographers often bemoan the lack of accessibility with digital files over time (anybody tried accessing information from a 5.25" floppy recently?), and by virtue of the volume of photographs being made right now, images in general seem less "special" or "worthy." Not to mention that many photographs don't exist in a physical, holdable, experiential, corporeal sense anymore. The internet is slowly changing that as it slowly abstracts the content away from the storage medium: When consumers look at a picture on Instagram, it doesn't really matter to them what Instagram stores it on, as long as they can send it to them. So now the problem becomes, when the electricity goes out, so too vanishes our photography.