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Technology, especially digital photography, is wonderful, but days of film and prints missed

Technology makes our lives easier. It helps us to simplify complicated processes, saving us from drudgery and enabling us to spend our time on worthier matters. Who, for example, would want to return to the days of 35mm film when digital photography is so much more convenient?

Um, I might. Because then it wouldn’t have taken me 13 years to put together a photo album of my trip to China and Tibet.

I love the crispness of digital photography, but that doesn’t matter so much when all my digital photos are languishing on hard drives or in the cloud instead of being displayed and enjoyed in albums and frames. That changed, however, when I unearthed the box in which I keep various mementoes from my travels in China and Tibet.

I have a box for each major international trip I’ve taken, and each box includes a travel diary and a photo album or scrapbook. But there was no photo album or scrapbook in the China/Tibet box because that was the first trip I took with a digital camera.

To be quite honest, I had never thought about putting together a physical photo album. I just downloaded the pictures from my camera and put them on my desktop computer. Surely that was sufficient.

But then, a few years later, I upgraded to a laptop. I still wanted access to the photos from my trip, so I had to download them from my camera to my laptop. Since I wanted to remember what I had seen and when I had seen it, I had to organize them into folders.

One could argue that there must’ve been easier ways to go about this, but we’re talking about transferring and organizing more than a thousand photos about ten years ago. Burning them to CDs would’ve been unwieldy, and my USB drive didn’t have nearly enough storage.

When that laptop finally melted down and was replaced, I had to repeat that process all over again. Keeping those convenient digital photos accessible and organized over the years has been a lot of work.

Had I brought a 35mm camera with me to China and Tibet, I would have sent the film out for processing, waited a few weeks to receive my prints and negatives and then put them in an album. The entire undertaking would’ve taken a few months at the most, and those photos would’ve been permanently accessible and organized.

Rather than continuing to perform a massive photo relocation and reorganization every few years, I finally decided to print some of the photos and put together an album. That, however, has been much easier said than done.

It took hours to look through all the photos and decide which ones I wanted to print. I then had to copy and paste them into folders based on date and location so I wouldn’t confuse my pictures from the Summer Palace with my pictures from the Temple of Heaven.

I was able to narrow it down to 363 pictures. Then Mom said, “Why don’t you print two more and make it 365? That way, you’ll always remember how many pictures are in the album.” So of course, I had to find two more pictures.

It took more time for me to upload everything to a photo processing website than it did for the photos to be printed and ready for pickup at a local drugstore. Now all that remains is to put 365 photos into an album in chronological order, complete with notes on the date and the location in the memo section next to each photo.

Unsurprisingly, it’s been slow going. After 13 years, the memory gets a little fuzzy, so I’m having to do some additional research to make sure I’m naming the right location in each picture. The sheer volume of things I did and experiences I had are frankly overwhelming. Thus far, I’ve invested a good ten hours into assembling the album, and I’m only on the second day of the 20-day trip.

As I continue to spend time with these photos, however, I can’t help but be pleased with the results of having used a digital camera. My trip took place in the summer, which meant it was hazy and humid in China. The weather in Tibet was better, with bright sunlight and blue skies, but the clouds passing overhead could quickly and randomly throw the subject of your photo into shadow.

And yet, all my pictures came out crisp and clear, regardless of what the weather or the light happened to be doing. The one exception would be the photos I took inside museums where I couldn’t use the flash. Even then, I can still kind of make out what’s in the pictures.

Had I used a 35mm camera, some of the shots I took would likely have been too hazy, too unfocused or too dark to print. I’d also probably have a lot more pictures of me with my eyes closed.

Overall, though I wish I could’ve found a more expeditious way of printing the photos, I’m glad I used a digital camera for that trip. Apart from the improved clarity of the photos, there’s the issue of how many rolls of 35mm film I’d need to bring there and back in order to sufficiently capture my experiences.

I would’ve had to sacrifice precious souvenir space, and some of those rolls of film might not even have been worth bringing back. Ultimately, I’m much happier to have my crisp digital photos, and the replica terracotta warrior I bought in Xian, and the woodblock prints I bought in Qijiang County, and the painted snuff bottle I bought in Lhasa, and. …

Tete-a-tete runs the first Thursday of the month. Teresa Santoski can be reached at tsantoski@gmail.com or via www.teresasantoski.com.