Digital Photo Archiving: We're in deep trouble!

Pile of media

I'm going to write a series of articles about photo archiving in the digital age. I'm at an interesting position to talk about these issues. I am professionally a programmer with more than a passing familiarity with imaging algorithms as well as a photographer who has displayed his work in art galleries. My wife is in the process of finishing up her masters degree in Library and Information science and has a degree in History.

My wife and I have been spending a lot of time thinking about how to preserve my artwork, given our respective backgrounds.

There are a lot of subtle long-term problems. See, people are currently not very cognizant of their own preservation needs until it's too late. I know people who printed out all of their digital camera pictures on their inkjet printer and then got rid of the original files from the camera. I know people who didn't think much about their archives until their hard drive crashed.

The problem is also there for people who shoot film. See, with film you have a storage medium where, if you properly preserve it, it will last for at least a century. But eventually, it will fade or, if it's color film, suffer irreversible color shifts. You also only get one try at it. I am reminded of the 1980 Cincinnati Ballet Rainbow Legs poster, where the original film was lost, so they can only make reproductions of the poster design now.

We can do better. With some care, we can have both film and digital photos last for longer than film would have, if everything works out just right. It is going to take a certain amount more effort than doing absolutely nothing to do this, but then again, it takes effort to not throw out your negatives.

There are a few things that I feel should be requirements in any image management software system or methodology:

I'm going to detail this in future entries as I develop the pieces of the puzzle in software.

Two papers came out lately that suggested some rather interesting things. It seems that a good planning guideline for hard drives is that they should be replaced every three years, regardless of if you use them a lot or a little over those three years... which makes them on the same level of reliability as CD-R or DVD-R drives, except that you can drop a binder full of optical disks from the table onto the floor and won't worry about your data. They also suggest that most RAID systems aren't as reliable as people thought they were.

I've intuitively felt that drives needed to be replaced after a few years, regardless of any failure indicators. The only time I violated that, I had a dead drive and that ended up needing to scramble for new drives.

Posted by Steve Hagel :
We have just launched a new service based upon our work over the last 10 years with the motion picture industry. We have adapted our laser recorders to record digital still images at 4k as 8 perf frames on motion picture film stock which we then archive at Pro-Tek film vaults in Burbank, CA. As you mention, having film cared for properly will result in better than a century's worth of life. Digital working copies and a 'deep film archive' for posterity. Check out our web page and feel free to contact us with any questions or inquiries. We just went live at the Imaging USA '08 show in Tampa, FL.


Posted by Wirehead Arts :
Ah, but writing the images to film is only part of the problem. There is also the problem of capturing the entire dynamic range of the digital image and preserving relevant metainformation.

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