Somewhere I read that information is being amassed and recorded at a rate so prodigious that no single human could read even a single day’s record in his/her entire lifetime. This assertion seems reasonable to me. So what of the historian of the future? Humans, if they still exist, many hundreds of years from now could very easily draw erroneous conclusions about our time if they happened to pick fragments of the record for study that were not at all representative of what really happened. Or if they failed to extract a fairly precise picture of the whole image of our life and times and only glimpsed fragments of the hugely complex mechanism that represents our reality. No doubt this has always been true of people studying long dead people. Since there’s really no reliable way to be certain we are not taking things out of context, it’s possible everything we think we know about the past is wrong. The situation for future historians will be much, much worse. They will be sifting through a mountain range of data looking for grains of sand.
You might argue that it is irrelevant what conclusions future generations draw about us. We’ll be dead. What difference does it make? You’d be correct in your argument, sort of, but not entirely. Some members of human societies do actually try to learn from the past while the rest of the rabble blunder along blissfully unaware they are repeating the errors of past generations over and over again. This is called stagnation. Most people seem to like it. For the rest of us, let’s consider how best to pass along relevant data in a compressed, really compressed, form. Virtually all of the data now being amassed is stored in digital form, ones and zeros. Lose the ability to interpret the ones and zeroes and the data is meaningless unless you happen to have something like the famous Rosetta Stone to map data from one interpretation system to another, no guarantee that such a thing will exist though.
Here’s a lesson learned from the past: a picture is worth a whole lot more than a thousand words. Some are worth an encyclopedia of words. Pass a picture from person to person in a group and each member of the group derives from it a unique and very personal experience. That experience is carried in a simple 2 dimensional representation of a frozen slice of time. Reams of data are transmitted almost instantly and tailored to the interpretation of each viewer, a personal yet universal experience. A print transmits its complex weight of emotion, thought, energy and intention in an almost dream-like form. It carries a jagged piece of the reality of its time and some of those jagged edges will poke into the existence of whoever holds the image. Truly compact data storage and transmission, magically customized on the spot and presented to the viewer in a format and language that only they will understand. And done without a single word. Pretty efficient communication.
No doubt you can see where this is going by now. After a decade and a half of making digital images of my world, many tens of thousands of images, I find that most of them don’t really exist, except as ones and zeroes. So I’ve begun to print more of my images, and I’ve begun to be a lot more thoughtful, careful even, of the images I make. The printed image is power. This has been known for a long time. In the early part of the age of digital imaging some thought those images would hold the same power, but consider how many thousands of digital images stream past you in a single day. Then consider how many of them you remember. Now consider an image you’ve hung in your home. Different thing entirely.
All images transcend language and, to a certain extent, culture. Their ability to influence thought and emotion is undeniable. I believe the printed image does it best (though you’ll noticed I’ve included digital images here).