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Will Photographic Archives Be Lost to Future Generations?

Posted on the 02 March 2015 by Nrjperera @nrjperera

Photography is a hobby enjoyed by millions of people worldwide. Cameras were once a piece of specialist equipment owned only by a few keen photographers, but today anyone with a mobile phone has use of a high resolution camera to use whenever a photo opportunity strikes. Digital photos can be uploaded on to the internet instantly and thanks to simple editing tools and filters, even amateurs can produce fantastic photos using an iPhone or similar.

However, despite the popularity of digital photography, a report on a UK radio news channel recently expressed concern than decades of images would be lost to future generations because of the changing face of technology.

A Record of the Past

Modern photography was invented in the late 1830s, but it wasn’t until a flexible film was developed by Kodak in the 1880s that photography became more consumer friendly. By the 1940s, cameras and photographic film were inexpensive enough for most people to buy, which led to an explosion in photographic images being produced. As a result, we now have a wonderful insight into the lives of those living in a bygone age.

How Long Do Photographs Last?

Photographs provide a vital record of the past, but photographic prints don’t last forever. Light, humidity, heat and environmental pollutants will all cause print quality to deteriorate over time. However, there are plenty of early examples of photographic prints in museums today that are in pretty good condition because of strict environmental controls and storage facilities. Nevertheless, we can reasonably expect photographic prints to last a hundred years or more in the right conditions.

Digital Vs Film

Digital photographs are the next generation of photography. Hailed as a wonderful development in the field of photography, digital photography has made it easier than ever for ordinary people to capture and edit images, and then share them with the rest of the world. Digital photography removes the necessity for sending off film to be developed. Instead of being restricted to a set number of images, we can take as many as we like, and discard the ones we don’t like.

Problems with Digital Images

One of the biggest problems with digital photography is its lack of longevity. There may be billions of digital photographs stored online, but because the way electronic media is stored, there is no guarantee that any of these images will be accessible in fifty, sixty or a hundred years’ time. Technology is developing at a frightening rate. What is cutting edge now will probably be obsolete in a few years’ time, so all of those photographs you have stored on a hard disk could be impossible to open in twenty years’ time.

Imagine if you have stored lots of photos on a floppy disc. Now that floppy discs are redundant and computers no longer come with floppy drives, how do you access your photo collection? It is precisely this conundrum that many experts are worried about. People like Aubrey Chernick who have a large collection of images stored in an online Aubrey Chernick photo album could end up with a non-existent photograph collection a few years from now if the ability to open certain types of files is lost.

There is no easy solution to this problem, but on a personal level it is worth printing off your favorite images and storing them in a safe place, just in case you lose access to them in a few years from now.

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