Monday 25 February 2013

The end of 'Photographic' discoveries in the attic?

I received a request the other day from a magazine who were interested in using a shot I took in 2005.

They were prepared to pay quite handsomely but they insisted it had to be 11" x 17" at 300dpi dimensions.

I hesitated before saying it was going to be big enough as the dimensions they were asking for were way beyond anything a DSLR's was capable of at that time.

Following that path does this mean that a digital photograph has diminished value as the quality is deemed insufficient?

It does seem a bit bonkers to me but if clients take this line then what is one to do?

Crafty upsizing and hope they do not notice?

Thankfully I did not have to do this as I shot it on a Phase One and they commented on the high quality, even though the back 'only ' had 22 megapixels.

But I fear that time is going to be pretty cruel to digital photography.

And not in commercial scenarios that I have just been talking about but the sheer survivability of images.

A friend of mine found some old photo's which dated back to the dawn of photography.

They were in an old album, and to access them all he had to do was open the album and there they were.

My first efforts at backing up my photo's in the early 1990's was onto floppy discs. I still have the discs but no machine to read them with, perhaps I will buy a drive when I get round to it and transfer the images or perhaps I will get hit by a number 53 bus before I do and they will be lost forever?

The situation is much the same with all the images I have recorded onto Zip drives (remember those?)

When CD recorders became affordable I switched to archiving all my work onto CD's.

I did this for a year or so with the burner hooked up to a computer which was expensive and state of the art but which of course became obsolete.

It was time for a new computer.

Gleaming, wonderful and new.

Horror of horrors it would not read a single CD I had burned.

Was it the CD's ? Had I recorded them in some silly incompatible format? I still don't know but fortunately I still had the negatives so I could rescan them.

When I started to shoot digitally I switched to backing up my work to external hard drives made by a reputable, and not so cheap, manufacturer.

All went well at first, then I had my first, and very predictable, hard drive failure. Fortunately I had all the important work double backed up onto DVD's.

Hard disc drive failure made me buy even more external HDD's, all seemed well and then the spectre of power supply failures started to raise its head. Simple I hear you say, buy another. The company no longer made them. I started to scour eBay for them and found them going for more than a price of a external HDD, it seemed I was not alone with my problem. I then investigated buying a housing to put the drive in and get the data off.
I bought the drive housing and opened up the power-supply-less drive only to discover that there was not one HDD in there but two. The manufacturer had, without announcing it, used two drives and the spread over two discs and I was well and truly stuffed.

Fast forward to 2012 and my backups are a myriad of servers (I use the excellent QNAP) cloud storage and good old DVD's.

I'm relatively confident that under my care that my work is safe.

But what happens when the work is no longer under my care.

When I die, will my children and grandchildren have the same interest as I do?

In 100 years time will my great grandchildren have any interest at all?

Will they go looking for DVD drives to read the discs which may well be unreadable by then? Or go searching online for power supplies for rotting pieces of junk that may no longer work ? Or try to get new bearings fitted to HDD's that have long since seized up?

Think back to my friend simply opening a neglected family album and discovering ancestral gold.

Without hard copies there is no way this will happen.


hamvas balint said...

I don't think that is the case. Storing photos digitally does take quite a bit of thinking and effort - but so does hard copies. If your children or grandchildren don't have the same interest in your photos as you do, your hard copies would disappear just as easily.

Unknown said...

Hi Hamvas

I'm not so sure.

Hard copies have instant appeal to someone who has no technical interest, what is more you need no more equipment than your eyes to see them (if we still use those in the future)

A pile of seized HDD's or delaminated DVD's which would greet the descendant in 150 or 200 years would be a bit more challenging.



MarkScholey said...

Ah the transience of media! In theory cloud storage is the way to combat this, whilst you (and others) are paying companies directly to store your files, they will migrate and keep that storage media up to date.

Obviously this falls down once you pass on, and no longer pay those bills, how long before online assets become commonplace in wills and estates?

Hamvas, Drew is right. Your descendants are much less likely to bin or throw away a photo album that you can easily see, than they are to something, which has been obsolete for 30 years, that requires a protracted search on eBay to find and buy equipment that is capable of reading it.

If Vivian Maier had stored her photos on reel to reel tape, we'd probably never have heard of her today.

Libby said...

Drew you've almost described my digital life. Iomega zip discs, yes, I had them. Not being able to read CDs, been there when going from In 98 to XP. Thankfully, nothing of real value on the CDs - mostly scans and old bitmap artwork. A few commercial things, long paid for and forgotten circa 1998.

Thankfully I have been very lucky with hard drives. Just the inconvenience of copy/transfer when I went to a bigger size. Always duplicated, with another drive offsite.

I've written a few times on my blog about printing images especially when it comes to family stuff. Why is it such a huge issue for some to take the good stuff and at least get then lab printed for as little as 6 to 9 cents apiece? I try to do this quarterly. I get multiples and pass them off to family members. There's something much different about giving some prints they can hold in their hands.

My most recent post about this referred to and the recent announcement of it's closure and migration to Adobe's new Revel. This right on the heels about the closing of the Posterous blog service. It looks like the new industry buzzword will be Migration.

Personally I'm not entirely sold on cloud stuff. I got burned on the old Digital Railroad fiasco. Insert your favorite expletives here.

For the commercial B roll work I really like, I have cheap 8x10s printed and slip them into a sleeve album. This is in addition to the printed ports. At least when I pass there will be books to find. Several in my family can barely reply to email, so doubtful that they'll want to deal with antiquated hard drives.

Drew you have a great day! The sun is shining here so I'm happy ;-)

Unknown said...

I think the real problem is not so much will people in a hundred years be able to see your photos but rather will people in a hundred years be really interested in your photos.

With the arrival of digital the number of images taken every year has exploded. I once read a study in 1992 that every year 22 billion photos are taken and only 1% are looked at more than once. Today Facebook alone sees 250 million photo uploads daily!

On the storage front. I think the big storage problem will be solved in about 15 years. Drives will be big enough to hold a life times worth of photos. Most likely those will be accompanied by very large cloud storage solutions.

BTW, from my experience the most reliable storage solution is a large external hard drive that is bus powered. Make sure you have three identical once. One is stored off-site. Two are stored on-site. You backup everything to two drives simultaneously then once a month you rotate the off-site storage. After two years you buy a new set of hard drives and ditch the old ones.

This is more reliable than DVDs (which delaminate, are effected by chemical reactions) or digital tape (easily corrupted by magnetic fields, environmental effects).

Unknown said...

I'm in agreement with your thoughts, Drew. 100%.

Good old Clive said...

There has to be some correlation between the amount of digital storage available and the resulting amount of garbage on it. Two arguments for print archiving, one being it's resistance to obsolescence and I'd like to think we're a bit more particular when deciding what to print. There's bound to be counter points of view of course, that's just my take on it. Less garbage is good.