How to archive digital photographs so they are around in 50 or 100 years.

This is an issue that has become a significant problem. SO much so that now many professional photographers are archving their digital photographs onto negative transparency according to Fujifilm.

Good solution raised in this article in The Age’s Livewire tech section.

Thanks for the memories – Livewire – http://www.smh.com.au/technology/

This may sound like a long time but most people have a shoebox of photos of Granny when she was a baby, and Grandma and Grandpa on their wedding day – 100-year-old photos are commonplace in family collections.

In recent years 5-inch and 3-inch floppy discs have come and gone; the super floppy lasted about 10 minutes and the CD is nearing the end of its useful life. Even DVDs will soon be superseded by Blue Ray and eventually solid-state memory devices. Every time a storage medium becomes obsolete, the hardware to read it disappears and any files stored on the discs become irretrievable.

In 100 years, no one will even remember what a CD was, any more than photographers now remember what a collotype was.

Consider this real-life story of photo archiving. Greg, who is 40ish, has a daughter who is noughtish. Greg cherishes an old photograph, taken in a professional studio, when he was noughtish of himself as a naked little cherub lying on his tummy on a striped rug looking at a can of baby powder. Greg wanted a photo of daughter Demelza in a replica pose and so it was done, on a Canon Powershot S50 digital camera and printed on a Canon i9100 printer with dye inks.

Greg’s baby photo had already lasted 40 years and was in good condition, but his daughter’s baby photo started to fade within months. In 40 years the paper will be blank.

The moral of the story is that at this point as print life and technology obsolescence are both unknowable, the only feasible archiving medium is still the silver halide print kept in a dark box.

The BBC reported recently that “some historians and archivists are concerned that the need for perfect pictures will mean that those poor-quality prints which offered a tantalising glimpse of the past may disappear forever”.

In other words, we may be the first post-Daguerre generation to leave no informal photographic record of our life and times.

Kodak is offering image storage to customers who buy their printing services, but what use is that? Who, in the next century, will go looking for pictures of Aunty Kylie in the Kodak vault, always assuming that it still exists and that Grandpa remembered to include the password and user name in his will?

It is a sobering thought – the lowest-tech archiving solution is still the most reliable, but it requires more conscious effort than in the past.

In the past, when the prints came back from the chemist, they were looked at once, stuffed in a box and left there like a time capsule to be discovered among the effects of the recently departed. Digital photographers will have to start thinking about their responsibility to leave a pictorial family record, but the hard drive, CD, floppy and DVD are not the way to do it. Paper still beats all other media. What an amazing invention!

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