There's something different about the new model of photographs--the Facebook system, the enormous bank of pictures taken primarily to be shared with the world. Maybe it's the ubiquitous exhibitionism that's been surging through our culture, or just the fact that those photographs are no longer personal but public. Photographs used to be objects that could only be seen by their takers or recipients, only to be shared with those who deeply cared about the memories contained within. Now, every image we capture streams out into the open. Now we don't mind who looks at our vacation photographs so long as a few people hit the "like" button.
What's more, you can't bring a digital photograph around with you in the same way. Sure, you can keep it on your smartphone, but then it's prone to disappearing with the battery life or getting lost when you get a new phone. And you can't hold a digital photograph up to the location where it was taken and see how the old blends in with the new.
Thankfully, someone's dedicated a blog entirely to the lost art of paper photos and the memories they can conjure. Dear Photograph features photos of photos held up to their original location. Below every image reads a letter to the photograph itself. They're short memos, brief yet evocative vignettes that thank the image in question, or make note of its significance in the owner's life. Most contain a palpable sadness, a longing for a bygone era or a lost loved one. There are a few photos taken during 9/11 that seethe with active tragedy. It's a mournful collection, to be sure, but also a grateful one. We are who we are now because of where we've been, because of who came before us.
Anyone can submit their own Dear Photograph image to the blog. It's anonymous and it's for all of us. And it's a beautiful way to document the documenting, to celebrate the process of memory and how we use it to move forward.