|The preferred way to store data. Excuse poor iPhone pic of badly-exposed negs. :)|
Forty years ago, the average family probably shot no more than a few rolls of 35mm a year but most of the time the negatives and resultant prints would be carefully stored away in a shoebox in a drawer or at the top of a wardrobe. As a result, almost half a century later, many of these prints are still available for younger generations to gawp at, laughing at grandad's kipper tie or even granny's mini skirt!
Today, young families take more photographs than at any time in history but the 21st century may end up being the most poorly documented period of the last hundred years. And it's mostly all thanks to digital.*
This is hardly a new revelation as film photographers like me and many who read this blog have been saying much the same thing for years. It just carries more weight when big hitters at Google and the Royal Photographic Society are saying the same thing.
A new Dark AgeRecently - you may have read about it already but it was news to me - Google vice-president Vint Cerf warned of a "dark digital age" where digital information stored on CDs, hard drives, etc, will disappear or become unreadable.
Michael Pritchard, director general at the RPS, said Mr Cerf's worries represented a "real concern" for historians. He said, "We are still looking at Talbot calotypes from the 1840s and I suspect we will still be able to enjoy these and today’s photographs, if they have been properly printed, in another 200 years.
"I would be much less confident about anyone being able to view most amateur digital files, created today, in 200 years. How we archive, preserve and make available digital images (and other digital files) for the future is a real concern for organisations such as the British Library and the National Archives and should be a matter of concern for all digital photographers."
Mr Pritchard raises three questions: will digital storage media survive in their environment, will they still work when played and will future technology be able to read them. He added, "The best estimates suggest that magnetic media have a lifespan of 10-20 years and CDs/DVDs around 10-25 years, and USB flash drives perhaps 10,000 plus read/write cycles."
|Wikipedia pic of Mr Cerf|
The Google and RPS comments follow an earlier warning by the Photo Marketing Association in the United States which predicted that "the most photographed generation will have no pictures in 10 years". Mobile phone pics were said to be particularly vulnerable - and even many film photographers rely on them for snapshots of friends and family.
The RPS has issued some advice to digital photographers when it comes to archiving their images. The august body says you should edit your thousands of files down to a small number of keepers and make archival prints. There is, of course, an easier answer - just use film!
You can read more on this subject at the Amateur Photographer website.
* The current societal pressure that discourages many photographers, myself included, snapping pictures of other people's children at play is another reason.