Richard Hammond on: photos
The arrival of the digital camera has done many things for many people. Granted, it's buggered the job up pretty badly for the companies to whom we used to send our films for processing, and it has rather killed off the glorious anticipation of waiting for the returned wallet of freshly minted snaps to drop through the letterbox - before turning out to be a load of blurry shots of rainy days in Cornwall.
But the digital revolution means I no longer have to endure long, cramped hours in the airless cupboard under the stairs, sloshing bits of photographic paper around in trays of developer and fixative to coax an image out of my poorly exposed rolls of Ilford Fp4 and emerge with the shots that would hopefully make my name as a creative visionary.
Anyway, point is, we can now take snaps on our digital cameras or our phones, blazing away without a care in the world, rather than cringing with guilt at the expense every time we hit the button and consume another frame on a roll that holds only 12, 24, or - if you were feeling flush - 36 opportunities to nail that award-winning shot.
I think this is a good thing. Our photos are freer, more innocent, less considered and - without wanting to sound like an art student - perhaps more revealing of our relationship with the subject and the wider world around us. Millions of different, disparate lives will be charted through a limitless stream of quality images detailing every party, glitch, loss, success and moment of joy, pain or boredom.
It is these seemingly worthless shots of everyday life that will probably more accurately recall our days in the future. All of this is well-known and certainly not news to the brigade of merry snappers who fill this magazine with finely crafted photographs every month. But I would contend that the greatest change effected by digital photography is not the way we take photographs, but how we store and look at them. I don't know about you, but my phone has little room left in it to store fripperies like telephone numbers, crammed as it is with photos.
I would contend that the greatest change effected by digital photography is not the way we take photographs, but how we store and look at them
These are the photos a chap would, in years gone by, carry in his wallet. Soldiers would keep a photograph of their loved one in the breast pocket of their tunic. Well, now they can carry a bundle of snaps that would, in old-school printed form, fill up an entire rucksack. I have thousands on my phone. There are some of my wife and kids, a couple of my home and one, for reasons best examined elsewhere, of James May and Jeremy Clarkson bending over a sofa together while a South African nurse bears down on their exposed backsides with a syringe.
But the majority of the 2,986 photos on my phone are of my cars and motorcycles - both currently owned and those long since passed into other hands. And not just one shot of each, there are dozens. Each vehicle has its time with me recorded in staggering detail: beauty shots profiling the car or bike's best angles and most tantalising details, shots of us on holiday, at home together or engaged in some intimate act of maintenance or repair. I consult these photos often, using them to illustrate points in conversation or for reference - much to the delight and fascination, no doubt, of those with whom I'm talking.
Given the impressive storage capacity of digital devices, I think we're missing a trick here. I carry pictures of my car with me, so why don't our cars carry pictures of us? What a fabulous and useful reference it would be if we could, when considering buying a used car, take a look at images of every previous owner stored on a chip, perhaps as part of the dash. That little old lady might be revealed as an altogether racier creature who cared rather less about service intervals than the advertisement would have us believe.
What if you recognised someone? Or they looked like you? It would be mega. And it would put the car into context, give it some meaning and give it a past all of its own. I would love to see every one of the people who have owned my old E-Type since 1962, if only to admire the moustaches and flat caps. A car would come to you rich in history, the more the better. It would prop up the used car market and save jobs. This system must be introduced. It will probably happen this year.
This article was first published in the February 2012 issue of Top Gear magazine