Until quite recently, taking a picture of something involved not only a camera but also film. When the film was complete, you set off to the chemist and waited several days for the prints to be processed (or performed the miracle yourself in dark rooms). You could also get the negatives turned into positives via post, which took longer but was much cheaper.
That’s a thought that seems astonishing now. The other day I took and shared a photo of a local Regency Square being kissed by the last sun of the evening, the evening of a beautiful, warm, soft day. Minutes later, it was online, where both I and others could admire its peachy glow. A peachy glow used to come with a week’s wait at least.
Despite the time constraints, there was something very positive about negatives. You could fill in your re-order card, deciding with a frisson of excitement whether to get two extra copies to send to both sets of grandparents of your impossibly cute children on the swing, or maybe three, for despatch to a distant relative, perhaps.
Copies cost money. Once they arrived, you had to post them out, too, so it could be a couple of weeks after the birthday that the birthday pictures arrived with the doting relations.
Nowadays, the pictures are on Facebook, Instagram and Flickr, not in the post. Some predict that in just the next year or two, people will take more digital photos than were ever taken on film. As Daguerre took the world’s first snapshot — a fetching composition of Paris’s Boulevard du Temple — in 1838, our annual production of images dwarfs the whole 150 years when we relied on film. That’s a lot of pictures.
How many of them will people lovingly print out and keep? I wonder.