Every second there are things that are forgotten, things that slip beneath notice or things that can only be carried in the memories of whoever witnessed them. Our capacity to rescue some of these things, these fleeting moments, and give them an endurance of their own is only as old as the first photograph. Sure, I know that people regularly depicted things by hand before that, but it's difficult to give a sketch or painting the same tincture of reality that a photograph has merely by existing.
Now, of course, we live in a time where more things are recorded than ever before. It's unusual now for someone to be out and about without a camera, a side effect of the ubiquity of mobile phones. That, I think, has really changed the photography game and made the notion of "recording the world" possible - at least for people like me, with more than ten thousand digital photos in my archive. But digital photography teaches its own lessons, and if you want to juggle the old and the new, there are some you will have to forget or at least interpret in a more narrow light.
Take the photos themselves, and the ease of taking, collecting, and retaining them. That's only really become feasible within the last few years, thanks to the convergence of digital photography and advancements in information storage. It's probably for the best that my Hanimex 35SE film camera doesn't fit in my pocket, unlike my digital; I'd say that the second-most important lesson I learned about using film was photographic discipline. If I'm out and about with my digital, I'd think nothing of taking a hundred and fifty shots over the course of an outing, generally anything that catches my interest. Film cameras present bottlenecks that don't exist with digital cameras. At the most you'll likely have thirty-six exposures before you need to change out your film, and even then you won't know how well the photos turned out until you get them back from thelab.
It's the lab that makes photographic discipline necessary - or, more appropriately, the expense of developing that roll of film into glossy prints. Unless you're a professional or independently wealthy, you've got to practice photographic discipline if you want to see any of them again. Six years ago, when I travelled to the United Kingdom with a friend, he brought a film camera while I carried my first digital - and it's good that I did, because as far as I know all those rolls of film he took were never developed due to the expense. If I was to take ten thousand film photographs, the development costs would be somewhere in the neighborhood of five thousand dollars - and that's not even taking the cost of the film itself into consideration.
Already, it seems to me that film is an intensely more personal medium than digital. It's easy to share digital pictures, easy to take them, easy to store them... but when I picked up that envelope filled with the prints off that fourth roll of film, I couldn't help but think that it was those photos that had the greater tincture of reality.
It's a problem on both sides, perhaps. For a long time, the expense of taking photographs restricted the camera to "special occasions," whatever they may be - I wish time and again that teenage Andrew had gone around Barrie with that old Minolta, taking pictures of interesting bits of the 1990s that I could look back on now - while the most prosaic things are captured time and again on digital. It's hard to overcome the attitudes I've built up in seven years of digital photography, hard to keep the Hanimex socked away until I encounter something worth photographing. That, in itself, is something I don't like having to think about; the idea that something is not worth photographic by dint of existing.
The advantage, though, is that if there's ever a sufficiently powerful electromagnetic pulse in these environs, those hard-copy photographs will work just as well the day after as they did the day before.