Finally Weber, who enjoys the occasional digital baby snapshot as much as anyone, stopped responding, and the friend, taking the hint, stopped sending.
Weber's e-mail, however, is by no means picture-free. Like many regular Internet users, she estimates that she will view more than 1,000 (why stop? it's free) digital pictures this year of friends, family and their assorted offspring. And she has some unequivocal advice for snap-happy e-mail correspondents everywhere.
"Edit your pictures, people," said Weber, a writer in Brooklyn whose pen name is Anita Liberty. She suggests no more than three pictures by e-mail, no more than 12 to an online "album," no albums more than twice a year. (Exceptions may apply for grandparents and best friends.)
Weber is not alone in her plea for restraint. At a time when this country is indulging in an unparalleled binge of, and some digital photographers find themselves drowning in the product of their enthusiasm, the notion is dawning that even in a digital realm less may still be more.
Some critics warn that a great photograph's singular power to trigger memory may be at risk. For many people a photograph they have seen a thousand times itself becomes the memory. With digital pictures it is rare for a single photograph to achieve that kind of status.
"When you have hundreds of pictures where you used to have one, people are less likely to ever go back to look at any of them," said Nancy Van House, a professor in the school of information management and systems at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies the social use of photography. "A lot of people are getting to the point in their digital photography now where it's becoming a problem."
Tinamarie Fronsdale, who is the keeper of her extended family's photo albums, shot more than 300 pictures after getting her first digital camera last year. She saved some on CDs and printed others. But she has not used the camera in months.
"It's too much," said Fronsdale, 47, a special education teacher in Berkeley. "Looking back at our family pictures from our childhood, I see it isn't important to have so many pictures. We do not need to record every moment."
The idea of passing on hundreds of CDs filled with pictures to her nephews was wholly unappealing, Fronsdale said, when she realized they would never casually pull them out the way she did with an old-fashioned photo album when she and her mother were recently reminiscing about a family friend.
America's amateur photographers produced 28 billion digital pictures last year, 6 billion more than they shot on film, even though only half as many own a digital camera, according to the market research company InfoTrends. That does not count pictures deleted before being printed or transferred for storage.
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People are not just switching formats. They are taking more pictures, 13 billion more last year on film and digital combined compared with in 2000, when the price of digital cameras began to decline. The number of albums compiled using Kodak's popular Ofoto software (now called EasyShare Gallery) jumped nearly 90 percent in 2004.
In an era when no moment passes that is not a photo opportunity, pet owners compile vast photo archives of their cats and dogs, teenagers wielding cell phone cameras take pictures of one another to fight boredom, and it is not uncommon to receive dozens of pictures documenting a baby's first few hours of life.
Many new photographers--and the newly prolific--extol a new category they call ephemera. It might include a picture of an interesting glove on the sidewalk. Seen through the lens of a camera that never requires its owner to pay for film, the mundane takes on new meaning.
The digital shooting spree is only expected to accelerate as a growing number of camera-phone shutterbugs join the ranks of those reveling in pictures immediately available and easily shared. Many digital picture enthusiasts say the medium has taken on a new currency as a running document of everyday life. Others say that even if they never look at a picture, just the experience of taking it engages them with a scene in a more interesting way.
Most people save all of their pictures, no matter how blurry or unremarkable. Many store them with the file names automatically assigned by their cameras, like "DSC31.jpg." Others develop complex classification to take the place of shoeboxes or an envelope with "Grand Canyon, 2003" scrawled across it.
on photo overload
Van Swearingen, an avid gardener in Greenwich Village, has sorted the 6,000 flower pictures he has amassed in three years into seasonal subfolders on his computer. Within them are folders labeled with the date and within those are other folders of the pictures he has cropped and color-corrected to his liking.
But when he was looking for a particular image of a lotus the other day, it took him half an hour sifting through computer files. And the hundreds of pictures he exchanges daily with other garden hobbyists has made him look at his own with a jaundiced eye.
"The constant stream of images somewhat cheapens the medium for me," Swearingen, 43, said. "It becomes almost too immediate."
It is partly the pleasure of that immediacy that propels people to take all those pictures. Many digital photographers, including Swearingen, describe the immediate gratification as addictive.
But Jim Lewis, a novelist who wrote an opinion article for Wired magazine titled "Memory Overload," suggests it is the hollowness of the gratification that fuels the addiction.
"You take the picture to capture the memory of being there, but if you take the picture, you aren't really there," Lewis said by telephone. "You're trying to satisfy a hunger which is actually being created by the activity."
In his article Lewis compared mushrooming digital photography to a map of the world that grows in detail "until every point in reality has a counterpoint on paper, the twist being that such a map is at once ideally accurate and entirely useless, since it's the same size as the thing it's meant to represent."
Michael Kuker, 31, does not see a problem with that. He has deposited 9,946 images on his hard drive since buying a digital camera two years ago. The no-risk nature of the technology, he said, has emboldened him to express himself. He shot 200 pictures of a bridge in Redding, Calif., and saved them all.
"Once it hits my computer, it stays, even if I don't like it," Kuker said. "In a historical context, 20 to 30 years down the road, someone else might find it interesting."
Or even tomorrow. Like many protophotographers, Kuker has been inspired to take more pictures to attract an audience online. He is a member of, a photography Web site, where half a million people have plunked 8.2 million pictures since it opened for business last summer.
Caterina Fake, Flickr's founder, argues that people just have to get used to a new way of interacting with photographs. The digital deluge may make it harder for single images to stand out of the dense crowd, but it also offers greater intimacy with friends and family and a new means of communication among strangers.
"The nature of photography now is it's in motion," Fake said. "It doesn't stop time anymore, and maybe that's a loss. But there's a kind of beauty to that, too."
Adam Seifer, the founder of another photo-sharing site,, said the glut of pictures is a problem only when they are channeled to the wrong audience. Seifer, who takes a picture of every meal he eats, concedes that his mother-in-law might not be interested in those pictures. "It becomes sort of the new spam," he said.
But Seifer's food log receives 15,000 visits a week from people who are apparently interested. If photographers would save the baby pictures for their mothers-in-law, Seifer argues, and store the rest in a central location where others can choose to view them or not, no one would suffer from overload.
Still, even in the enthusiast bastion of online photo sharers, there are signs of paring down.
"I'm thinking of going on an image diet," Frederick Redden, 52, of Stuart, Fla., wrote on a Flickr discussion board. His plan to delete some of the 250 pictures he had put up, based on unpopularity, was met with cries of disapproval.
One respondent wrote, "If I did that, I'd have to delete all of my pictures!"
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