Coming Back Full Circle to Film and Paper

by Derrick Story

Much of the hallway talk around PMA has drifted to archiving, the permanence of prints from today's home printers, and what shape our images will be in 100 years from now. The growing distrust of optical media's archival ability combined with its lack of storage capacity for today's huge files has people wondering, "what should I use?"

Hard drives seem OK for temporary storage, as long as there's plenty of redundancy. But are they really practical over decades? Suddenly photographers are thinking about archiving to paper and film again -- printing on stable stock with long lasting dyes and migrating their most cherished digital images to back to film. When stored properly, this return to paper and celluloid makes a certain amount of sense... I think. Or does it?


2006-02-28 08:43:55
The benefits of digital storage outweight the benefits of prints, imo.
Digital allows for everybody to have "masters" without degradation, there is substatially less waste, and people have a choice to display and distribute photographs in a way most convenient to the individual (print, digital frame, website, email, & etc.).

Although I do think the stability of storage is something to ponder, one can easily make multiple back-ups to assuage any fears of data loss. Also compare one DVD-rom full of images to a stack of equivalent film or photos and the required space requirements, let alone the ease of organization with digital. As technology progresses, one can also move it off optical to the latest-&-greatest without quality loss. The other major benefit of digital is metadata. The moment a digital photo is taken, you have the time, data, & camera settings stamped on the image, and if you take a little more time you can also add location, person, and any other info.

For me, the eco-benefits from digital are great too. Far less chemical processing, reusable data capture, selective printing, and I posit that there is overall less waste generation in manufacture and use over conventional.

2006-02-28 11:36:44
I completely agree with you--digital storage is far better for so many reasons--but think of the Betamax. The real problem with digital storage is obsoleteness. Having to move your media around to new storage formats and old ones begin to disappear is definitely something to fear, not me mention incredibly inconvenient.
Mike A
2006-02-28 16:25:00
Whilst Hard Disks can fail, storing on paper still has similar issues. Fire is a problem for both solutions, but at least storing digitally is easy to do in 2 seperate locations almost as soon as the photo is taken.

And besides, if you were planning to make your long term backups to DVD etc. I would really hope you would make more than the one backup.

2006-02-28 16:33:31
I shoot film with an old Leica, scan it to redundant external HD's, and will upgrade as the technology dictates. Will you be able to print one of my shots a hundred years from now, nope. Will you be able to find one of my negs a hundred years from now, nope. I lose them all the time, but have never lost a single digital file. Several photographers lost their life's negative collections during Katrina. To be of any value to a living photographer, negs need to be at hand and most don't have disaster proof storage. Fire proof file cabinets maybe, nothing for flooding and wind, that would require a Force 5, Reichter 8, saferoom at high elevation. Sounds like self important FUD.
2006-03-01 06:35:20
I've actually been wondering if there is a way to save digital images out to film. I've taken my parents negatives going back to the 1960's and I'm in the process of scanning those in. I'm also storing the negatives in notebooks now. And it got me to wonder about all my digital images and how will I store them. DVD's are not the answer from everything I've been hearing about their life expectancy. And can everyone afford a RAID environment?
2006-03-01 07:13:22
This isn't necessarily a concern only for professionals. Future generations will want your media, be it text, still photo, or video, for family history if nothing else.

Archival-quality CD/DVD blanks probably aren't available at your local office supply chain store, but they do exist. Even so, it's the obsolescence that's more troubling -- sure, you can find an 8" floppy drive if you really look, but do you have a computer that would both know what to do with it and be able to move the data to some other media (or connect to a LAN)? What's going to replace today's CDs and DVDs by 2050?

Perhaps the best thing to do is to get accounts on several media archive/sharing sites and stash copies on all of them, as well as keeping copies on DVD. If you're really concerned about making sure your text and photos will be around, print copies on acid-free paper and put them somewhere safe (worst-case, your great-great grandkids can rescan them).

Video is going to be a bit harder to archive, long-term: properly-stored tapes or archival DVDs will likely outlast the mechanisms that can read them; digital video needs a lot of hard drive space and bandwidth to transfer to archive sites, even by today's standards. I suspect that "digital historian" will be a high-skill profession by 2050, requiring plenty of engineering knowledge to rebuild, maintain, and connect old drive mechanisms, as well as working past the inevitable dropouts and other forms of bit-rot.

2006-03-01 12:18:51
I am willing to bet that in 50 years it is going to be a lot easier and much more cost effective to transfer from digital-to-digital, than trancode from analogue-to-digital. For example, going from analogue 16mm film to digital miniDV/betacam is rather expensive because of setup time, film cleaning, realtime monitoring and transcoding. However, if you keep your digital archives reasonably *organized* dropping bits (whether audio, video, or photgraph) across to new media should be a snap.

As it is right now, one can store a reasonable amount of "uncompressed" (as in miniDV) digital video on a dual-layer DVD-r. With the new blue-laser stuff, one can put multiple tapes on one disc! Even though I find that amazing, I also realize that with HD, comes even larger storage requirements, but I think storage technology is keeping up rather well these days.