Do you print out your photographs?


On storing personal photographs with an eye on archiving.

So I got the dragon a new (for us) second hand toy to be distracted by – an A2 printer that was going fairly cheap for what it does.

Poor Eglantyne Jebb looks petrified in the face of Puffles! This print is from the Palmer Clarke archive in the Cambridgeshire Collection – with tens of thousands of glass plates that volunteers are currently scanning and cataloguing. [For those of you interested, I run free monthly talks at the Cambridgeshire Collection on the 2nd Saturday of each month – see here for details].

I went through a spreadsheet that another volunteer had created from the card index to locate a number of very prominent women who were social reformers in the run up to the First World War and in the interwar period. Getting these printed out on A2 photo paper (i.e not poster paper) isn’t cheap. It’s at least £20 a time. Given the number of plates I could order, the potential printing cost from a third party was looking at over £500. At which point it’s far better buying a printer capable of doing the job.

What the detail shows that viewing on screen misses

I don’t know about you, but I prefer looking at historical documents and things on paper rather than on screen. I find I have more time to ponder and contemplate, gazing at a large sheet than having to fiddle around moving a cursor that is distracting to say the least – to say nothing of the screen glare. Surprisingly, some images have come out incredibly well even though they are photographs of small photographs.

Such as this one of Belcher’s unbuilt guildhall in Cambridge. This is the story of why we didn’t get it, but having the ability to print it out means I can give a copy back to the Cambridgeshire Collection that is far more striking than the original photograph we got it from. (The original painting is lost somewhere in the current guildhall).

Ipswich on the other hand managed to build theirs.

“Why print all of this stuff out?”

Some of it is because more detailed, larger prints reveal far more. Coming back to Belcher’s Guildhall plan, this – again from the Cambridgeshire Collection, is a photo of an A2 print I made earlier today. The original newspaper print is about A5, and the descriptions of the rooms are illegible in the latter.


Yet when I printed them out at A2, as the detailed snapshots from my phone show, the room labels magically appear.


The County Court room is more clearly visible as the large room on the left in the image above.


The Committee Room labels are visible, as is the balcony, while we can clearly make out the shape of the council chamber as well.

The printed image does not require another piece of equipment to access it, unlike data stored on a separate device/hard drive.

This was what got me thinking about what to print and where to store the images – both the photographs I take when out and about in Cambridge, and the images I’ve been digitising for my own research – eg newspaper articles.

One of the things with photographs in our local archives is that many of them are quite small. Understandable given the cost of producing them – alongside things like rationing and censorship, especially in wartime.

Humanity and personality getting lost/hidden in very small images

When we opened the first of the large prints I had ordered separately via the Cambridgeshire Collection, We gasped with surprise when the first prints of Eglantyne Jebb came back – as well as the photo of the roof of the old Masonic Lodge that was on Corn Exchange Street.

One of the people who came to one of my history talks is a Mason, and told me that the roof had indeed been saved, transferred to another lodge which, if all goes well we might be able to visit.

“So…size is everything?”

Not quite.

But for the purposes of my research, being able to photograph otherwise delicate newspapers and reprint them in the same large format means not repeatedly pulling out the originals from the archives. Furthermore, with images, as I’ve mentioned there is so much more detail that comes out in a larger format. For example in Eglantyne’s case you can see the freckles on her face just beneath her make-up. At that size she looks so much more human.

“Printing out all of those photos will take ages and won’t be cheap”

I’m not intending on printing out all 10,000+ photos that seem to have found their way onto my laptop since leaving the civil service in 2011. (The large majority of them are actually snapshots of things I’ve found in archives rather than of people and things). It’s strange because I used to hate being in photographs and hated taking them too because I was rubbish at it. There are precious few photographs of me in my teens and twenties around.

Does it bother me? Yes and no. It does because otherwise it feels like the things – even the good things that happened, were lived by someone else in another life. But then it doesn’t bother me at the same time because the people who I shared those experiences with are no longer in my life. As I mentioned in a previous blog, the impact of my mental health problems that I didn’t fully recognise at the various times were more than enough for people to back away. The ‘intensity’ that goes with it is one of the personality traits I hate in myself because I know how off-putting it can be. Unfortunately photos like this from over a decade ago shortly after I moved to London risk becoming meaningless because they lack both context and being part of a narrative or story.


This photo was taken at a ballroom ball at Fulham Town Hall by the former Stardust Ballroom Dancing Company (which unfortunately did not take off despite a strong start, and was liquidated).

But yes, in the grand scheme of things, I think it’s worth going through your own digital photo collections and picking the best ones either to print out on photo paper or get professionally developed (and at a larger-than-standard size). Chances are someone in the future will thank you for it.



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