I remember asking a second hand book seller once why paperbacks don’t have any illustrations. He said it was because pictures belonged in children’s books. His answer should have been that ‘it’s all about saving money.’ Illustrators are expensive and using illustrations available in the public domain is limiting so adults can do without.
D is a friend and knowledgeable about books and many things relating to them, so I said nothing, but I knew he was wrong. Particularly as I had been collecting old books and first editions for some time. Not for the value, I hasten to say. Some were slightly foxed or the covers dented but they were affordable and they were beautiful. I was saving the gold edges, the illustrations, the uncut editions and the etchings for posterity. I value anything that takes time and thought and care to produce and I believe that (as is often the case) those arts are lost to progress.
The good old days are never coming back. What seems to have taken their place is the era of fast: fast food, fast information, and the dizzying rate of exponential growth. Progress is everywhere. And we are the poorer for it, because progress doesn’t enhance, it replaces. And like the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland we’re always rushing towards something and not noticing that we are leaving something valuable behind. We rely on countless photos and YouTube clips, uploads, downloads and stock photos to keep us informed and entertained. Everything is laid on and everyone with a camera (if you have a phone you have a camera) considers himself (herself) an expert these days. (I don’t include dedicated photographers, who, like writers use their surroundings to give their interpretation of an image a voice).
We are constantly being bombarded by images wherever we roam, particularly on the Net where everything is on the one hand hanging around forever and on the other hand ephemeral or at the very least outdated by something newer and shinier. Today’s news is no longer tomorrow’s fish and chips wrapping. That’s why many images are archived and hauled out for the appropriate moment. It seems that we are incapable of reading about a personal or global disaster without being offered some image to titillate us first. I’ve never understood the point. Well, I do get the point, I just don’t like it.