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Author Topic: The loss of history?  (Read 21503 times)
joneil
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« on: April 12, 2008, 09:04:39 AM »
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Here is a question for all of you, that i have no answer for.

I am involved in a local heritage group.  One of our big issues, well, for all historians, is the giant "memory hole" we are creating at this very time.  In no particular order, here are the issues:

1) Photoshop

       I've been in photography for 25 years, and 25 years ago, what it took a lot of expensive equipment and years of training do to can now be done by a 12 year old on a computer in moments.  For example, B&W photos taken on an old Kodak brownie were printed as is, the good, bad & ugly - nothing was changed because very few people had the talent, know how and equipment to alter negatives by hand.  I suspect that today there's more photo editing going on in the average household than the entire propaganda depatment of the British Intellligence Unit during WW II.

    Almost every photo editing program has some sort of "one step" or "one shot" photo fix up button.  

  So my point is this - I am NOT speaking artisically - but from the point of view as a historian and & archivist - what can we belive anymore.  Every magazine,movie and professional image is photoshopped anymore.  People are doing the same at home.  200 years from now, what "real", untouched images are we going to have left?

 Yes, images including photography have been staged and formated in such a way to show what people wanted to see, not what rally was, but my point is, there wee enough amatuer and home shooters that we can get reasonable handles on what things looked like 100 years ago.  For exmaple, 100 years ago a photo of a factory for business purposes might be touched up by hand, but local neighbourhood photos taken ont he old Kodak brownie were not.  

  As a historian, I can tell you, this is simply not true today- everybody wants things to look "beautifu:.  

2) - Archival standards.

     We have a real problem in medium.  Almost all CDs and DVDs are NOT archival quaity, unless you are special ordering Taiyo Yuden  disks.  Go to this link as one small example of what i am talking about:
http://www.digitalfaq.com/media/dvdmedia.htm

 So, most people cannot read old 3.25" floppy disks, our cDs and DVDs will nto stand up, what will we have 100 years form now.

   There's another issue with upgrading software too.  A year or so ago a news tory made the rounds about  how the US navy upgraded to a new version of autocad.  Well the new version imported the old drawings, but it made some very sublte changes - for example a very thin line became a thing dotted line.  When you are dealing with teh innards of nuclear reactor, such small changes matter.

 But here's my pint - not from art point of view, but form ARCHIVAL points of view, it is vitally esstential that everything remain unchanged.  Those tiny little differences that may or may not take place as you import your jpegs and TIFFs from one upgrade to another, or even say your Nikon NEF files, and you upgrade your Nikon software, and something changes, do we loose something.  Again I must repeat myself, this is from the archival standard.

 right now, the only electronic format I know of that preserves every little bit of data without changing (I hope) is the astronomical FITS format, but with the way software changes constantly, I am wondering there too.

3) - loss of media

     While Epson does make archival quality inks, the vast, vast majority of family prints that are done at big box retail stores are NOT done with archival paper and inks. Even look at some of your old colour negatives - outside of Kodachrome, how many of you have old colour prints, slides and negatives where the dyes are fading?

   The other sad fact is since 1870, almost all books are printed on paper that has acid in them.  Very, very few books of any kind, fiction, non fiction, art, etc, are printed on acid free archival quality paper.  We have books printed on old rag paper from 1850 that are in excellent shape, but a book form 20 years later is litterally falling apart.

 Movie films too are affected.  I was watching a program on TCM about how something like 50% of all movies made before 1945 are  lost, and something like 80 or 90% of all movie made before 1930 (ish) have been forever lost.  I stand to be corrected on thos figures, but you get the point

4) too much information

    The average family on vacation might shoot a couple rolls of film.  even somebody who shot 10 rolls of film would come back with what - 10x36 = 360 shots.   Today, I talk to people who come back with something like 5 or ten 1, 2 or 54 gig cards full of photos, and the actual number of shots ranging in the thousands!

    Here's the paradox - the more we have, the less time we have to sort the wheat from the chaff, and the less time we have just o keep it all together.  Then everytime you buy a new computer, you have to transfer and backup, and sometimes people just don't have the time to do that.  I've talked to many people who have lost images over the years.  

 Again, I am talking about the average family.  Let me put it this way, I read a statistic the other day that says the average family in the USA spends LESS than 5 meals together *per week*.  So, if the average family cannot find time in today's world to spend time for meals together, where's the time to copy photographs over and over agian?  This i likely the wrong forum to ask this question as I assume most people here are diligent in their backups, but i am talking overall, real world, day to day living.

    So there you - what's to be done?  My personal solution is shooting 4x5, single sheet film, processing archival quality B&W negatives, and stored in a metal safe.  

 But I can tell you, from an archival point of view, not an artistic one, that all the image processing of modern day photography is turning into something of a disaster.  And sadly, one that very few either know or care about

thanks for letting me rant
joe

PS - sorry for the typos and spelling, I know they are there, but cannot always see them.  Sometimes dyslexia just plain sucks.  
« Last Edit: April 12, 2008, 09:06:01 AM by joneil » Logged
Jonathan Wienke
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« Reply #1 on: April 12, 2008, 09:27:22 AM »
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You have some valid concerns, but they are vastly overblown. Photoshop has made compositing images and other fakery easier to do, but not much easier to do well. Getting the color and angle of the lighting to match to make a really convincing composite can't be done completely in Photoshop; some of that has to be done while shooting.

There's also the point that much more of daily life is being recorded in stills and video than ever before. So even if you weed out fakes and PS fun, there is a lot more "real" stuff out there than at any previous time in history.
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joneil
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« Reply #2 on: April 12, 2008, 10:50:34 AM »
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You have some valid concerns, but they are vastly overblown.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=188930\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]


-snip-

  Ah - maybe I should explain myself a bit better.

   Just for the record, the views I expressed are from working directly with people who work in archives and archival medium.  Not  administraitors who have to be political and keep bad news to a minimum to ensure funding, but the real "foot soldiers" in the trenches, so to speak.

  when I talk to these people, they are  very worried, for some of the reasons I listed above, and more.  
   
     I could write a book on the subject, but I just want people to realize there is an issue.  You should spend a day in an archives, and see all the little, day to day issues these people are facing.  I honestly do not think you would consider my comments overblown (no insult intended)

 Let me put it another way - think of archival standards at the same level as court or police evidence standards.  Local example - the police in my city (last I saw) are still using film to record major crime investigations (in addition to digital).  Why?  archival standards.  

   If you were charged with murder, knowing what can be done with Photoshop, would you be happy if you were innocent and the only evidence against you was digital images?  Or would you prefer to have your defence lawyer be able to examine the original negatives?

  I personally know a man who spent ten years in jail for a murder he never committed (exoneration by the courts).   In his case it was not digital images, but it was a case of fabricated evidence that put him there.

 So you see, it's a serious issue -  especially if it were to happen to you?

 So I am not here to attack the use of Photoshop - I use it myself for commercial purposes - but there are huge issues.  Weaknesses in digital media is one of several reasons why identity theft is such a huge issues.  IMO, if we had archival standards exacted to digital media in the same fashion we have it on print media, a lot of the issues with ID theft would not exist.  

 So you see, it touches all areas.  My issues above are just a few of the straws on the camel's back, so to speak, but I thought they wold be relevant ones to this board.

have a good one
joe
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Jonathan Wienke
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« Reply #3 on: April 12, 2008, 04:33:24 PM »
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Most pro-level DSLRs can embed a checksum in their image files that can be used to verify if the image has been altered or not. All Canon 1-series cameras have this feature; one of the accessories you can buy is a verification kit to check whether a file has been altered or not. But if you think film is immune from fakery, you are sadly mistaken. Compositing and other forms of alteration have been done for over 100 years.
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« Reply #4 on: April 12, 2008, 05:20:25 PM »
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200 years from now, what "real", untouched images are we going to have left?

Moonrise over Hernandez.
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russell a
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« Reply #5 on: April 12, 2008, 08:06:41 PM »
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Moonrise over Hernandez.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=189068\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Say what?  Adams "Moonrise" negative was so thin it was chemically intensified twice.  An exhibit last year at the Princeton U. Art Museum was specifically built around this image and included an original "straight" print that would hardly have deserved a second look plus highly hand-tooled versions of prints from each of the successive decades of the 40's to 70's.  Significant differences are apparent in the evolution of Adams' aesthetic choices over that time period.  You would be better served to select some other image for your example.  Check the history first.
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russell a
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« Reply #6 on: April 12, 2008, 08:20:28 PM »
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As regards the main concern of this thread, I fear that your desire for archival purity is a lost cause, for (among others) the following reasons:

1)  No one can afford to maintain archives in the way you suggest, 2) The cost of cataloging such archives means that they will not be accessible in any useful manner,  3) All history is revisionist, any information that survives will be re-contextualized to support the market requirements at the time of consumption.  What anyone considered the original "truth" will be subsumed to support prevailing agendas.  

Sorry.
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« Reply #7 on: April 12, 2008, 09:21:04 PM »
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You would be better served to select some other image for your example.

Do you know what sarcasm is?
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Gordon Buck
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« Reply #8 on: April 12, 2008, 09:24:33 PM »
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My personal solution is shooting 4x5, single sheet film, processing archival quality B&W negatives, and stored in a metal safe. 

[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=188923\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

But won't the people of the future wonder why we lived in a world without color?
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russell a
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« Reply #9 on: April 12, 2008, 10:17:14 PM »
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Do you know what sarcasm is?
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=189105\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

 Touche'  You got me on that one.
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Jonathan Wienke
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« Reply #10 on: April 13, 2008, 06:08:02 AM »
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right now, the only electronic format I know of that preserves every little bit of data without changing (I hope) is the astronomical FITS format, but with the way software changes constantly, I am wondering there too.

Haven't you heard of DNG??? It's a standardized format, open, fully documented, and anyone can use it or write software compatible with it. Adobe offers a free RAW > DNG converter that is updated as new camera models are introduced. And converting RAWs to DNG does not change the RAW image data whatsoever.

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The average family on vacation might shoot a couple rolls of film.  even somebody who shot 10 rolls of film would come back with what - 10x36 = 360 shots.   Today, I talk to people who come back with something like 5 or ten 1, 2 or 54 gig cards full of photos, and the actual number of shots ranging in the thousands!

    Here's the paradox - the more we have, the less time we have to sort the wheat from the chaff, and the less time we have just o keep it all together.  Then everytime you buy a new computer, you have to transfer and backup, and sometimes people just don't have the time to do that.  I've talked to many people who have lost images over the years.

The typical family practice of throwing the negatives in a shoe box is no better; they tend to get scratched, damaged, and misplaced quite often. Digital is more susceptible to loss from media failure, but that can be dealt with by backing up your data. And digital images are more likely to be posted online on Myspace or Photobucket or whatever, and get archived by Google and other search engines

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So there you - what's to be done?  My personal solution is shooting 4x5, single sheet film, processing archival quality B&W negatives, and stored in a metal safe.

Which is totally impractical for most people. 4x5 is a totally ridiculous camera system choice for most family photographs. As the price of storage media decreases, the disincentive for backing up data decreases as well. People who get burned by data loss tend to be more careful about backing up afterwards. In the mean time, the sheer volume of digital photos, video, and audio recordings guarantees that we will be the most thoroughly-documented society on Earth.
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Geoff Wittig
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« Reply #11 on: April 13, 2008, 10:11:43 AM »
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Certainly some food for thought here.

I guess my first comment would be that, at least for color photography, the trend is almost entirely positive. As Henry Wilhelm has abundantly documented, essentially all consumer-level color prints from the 1960s to early 1980s have already deteriorated almost beyond repair due to the fugitive nature of Kodak's Ektacolor process. Sure, Kodachromes still look pretty good if they were stored properly, and a handful of incredibly devoted artists were making dye-transfer prints that still hold up. But even Cibachromes have a very finite lifespan, and how many average hobbyists were using Kodachrome once decent color negative film showed up? The color dyes in standard negatives aren't very stable, and how many folks keep them in cool, dark storage conditions?
Nowadays pigment inket printers are widely available, and the color stability of prints from them appear to exceed that of any previous process. Digital files may be vulnerable to issues of media stability and migration to new platforms, but TIFF and JPEG standards have been pretty solid, and bytes don't deteriorate like negatives do. I currently have all my image files on a single hard disk, with two identical back-up disks, one kept off-site. Each is about the size of a brick. My archive of 35 mm slides takes up far, far more space; they're far less accessible; they are the only original copy; and it's getting harder every day to buy a high quality slide scanner necessary to access them. My first good 4000 dpi film scanner is incompatible with current computers due to an outdated SCSI interface; my current 5400 dpi scanner is excellent, but it's no longer in production and support is disappearing.

Even for black & white photography, I would argue that those halcyon days of yore weren't so great. Yes, a carefully processed and meticulously washed fiber-based silver gelatin print has excellent image stability. But only a tiny fraction of darkroom silver gelatin prints meet this standard! Far more were haphazardly processed, incompletely washed, casually handled and printed on resin coated papers prone to all kinds of image deterioration. The jury is still out on the true long term stability of pigment monochrome inkjet prints, but so far things look good.

To me, it looks like the real challenge for future archivists and social historians won't be the inaccessability of digital image files compared to 19th century prints. It's going to be the immense volume of images, the endless terrabytes of them.

Just my 2 cents.
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Geoff Wittig
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« Reply #12 on: April 13, 2008, 10:18:28 AM »
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-snip-

    If you were charged with murder, knowing what can be done with Photoshop, would you be happy if you were innocent and the only evidence against you was digital images?  Or would you prefer to have your defence lawyer be able to examine the original negatives?

  I personally know a man who spent ten years in jail for a murder he never committed (exoneration by the courts).   In his case it was not digital images, but it was a case of fabricated evidence that put him there.

[{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]


This is a frequently cited straw man argument against Photoshop and digital photography. For what it's worth, the purely mathmatical nature of digital imaging files makes any alteration or compositing far easier to detect than similar trickery using conventional chemical photography. There's a very clever book available recently that details the entire field:

[a href=\"http://www.amazon.com/Adobe-Photoshop-Forensics-Cynthia-Baron/dp/1598634054/ref=pd_bbs_sr_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1208099623&sr=1-2]http://www.amazon.com/Adobe-Photoshop-Fore...08099623&sr=1-2[/url]

Great stuff in it if you're curious.
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« Reply #13 on: April 13, 2008, 10:43:21 AM »
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Digital files may be vulnerable to issues of media stability and migration to new platforms, but TIFF and JPEG standards have been pretty solid, and bytes don't deteriorate like negatives do. I currently have all my image files on a single hard disk, with two identical back-up disks, one kept off-site. Each is about the size of a brick.
I 've had files deteriorate on a HD. And also the back ups were also affected as they updated the flaws.  

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To me, it looks like the real challenge for future archivists and social historians won't be the inaccessability of digital image files compared to 19th century prints. It's going to be the immense volume of images, the endless terrabytes of them. [a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=189213\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]
I have problems getting through just my own data! Aquisition of digital files is so easy, sorting and cataloguing them is still extremely hard work.
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« Reply #14 on: April 13, 2008, 04:10:52 PM »
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History has always been controlled well by demagogues since they present only their version (i.e. 'History Channel'). Having multiple versions available for rapid comparison helps, and having user review forums helps too. For historical photos, I like the idea of seeing the original (or originals when diff. versions exist) side-by-side with restored versions. Not just to visualize the intended aesthetics of the original, or to verify and validate the changes, but most importantly, to explore the differences and learn....
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dbell
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« Reply #15 on: May 21, 2008, 12:01:41 PM »
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-snip-

 So I am not here to attack the use of Photoshop - I use it myself for commercial purposes - but there are huge issues.  Weaknesses in digital media is one of several reasons why identity theft is such a huge issues.  IMO, if we had archival standards exacted to digital media in the same fashion we have it on print media, a lot of the issues with ID theft would not exist.

[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=188966\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

No offense, but that's not accurate. I do computer security for a living, and the primary enabling factors in ID theft have nothing to do with weaknesses in digital media. The factors contributing to ID theft are primarily social, with a few technical issues thrown in:

- It's a low-risk, high-reward crime: perpetrators can make a lot of money selling personal information without a huge risk of being caught. And when they do get caught, the penalties aren't severe enough to deter them.

- Building cheap, insecure, easy-to-use IT systems takes less time and is more profitable than building more secure systems. Corporate liability for bad IT security is almost non-existent. Cheap, fast or right? Pick two...

- Strong encryption is widely available, often for free. Applied intelligently, it could make ID theft much more difficult. See above about the tradeoff between cost, complexity and security. The vast majority of personal data held in commercial and government databases is not encrypted, so once primary access controls fail, the data is easily usable by the bad guys.

ID theft is rampant (and getting worse) largely because we, as a society, are willing to put up with it in exchange for the benefits of an information-intensive society and economy. We want to be able to use our credit cards in remote places, have our paychecks directly-deposited and our mortgage payments automatically withdrawn on time. We want loan approval and employment background checks in minutes or hours instead of weeks, and sometimes require instant access to medical records (which really CAN save lives...) We don't want to spend our time worrying about how the data gets stored or transferred. Thus far, we've done a poor job of balancing security with utility and problems like ID theft are one result. In my opinion, this will improve as society's information-awareness matures. None of this has to do with any inherent flaw in digital media. As long as there have been documents, there has been fraud.

I find the rest of this discussion compelling, but the ID theft issue isn't relevant to it, IMO.


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Tim Gray
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« Reply #16 on: May 21, 2008, 02:27:24 PM »
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A couple of thoughts:

I don't consider any of my images to have even the remotest historical value - the issue of archiving my images is my problem and I deal with it to my satisfaction.  The issue of 5.25" floppy compatibility is an issue for the archaeologists, not for me.  I'm sure the Smithsonian could deal with a 5.25" disk if they had to...  

The issue of image manipulation is as old as images themselves.  I'm sure there was controversy in the 16, 17 18th etc centuries when painters took liberties with their subjects (or perhaps more controversy when the images were, in fact, "realistic" as opposed to reflecting the self image of the portrait subject).

Having said that, your point regarding the archival quality of cd/dvd's is well taken.  In fact I have a bridge in New York that I'm willing to sell cheap to anyone who's "backup" consists solely of that type of media.
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dalethorn
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« Reply #17 on: May 22, 2008, 02:06:34 PM »
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I have a near-foolproof and easy to use backup system that I've used since the early 80's, where I currently maintain about 30,000 files (approx. 4,000 photos), and hundreds of those files change every week.  But nobody has ever shown an interest - all I see on this forum is interest in proprietary systems that will fail at some point.
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« Reply #18 on: May 22, 2008, 04:55:26 PM »
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I will chime in here since this a source of anxiety for most of us. I believe nothing will last that long anyway, maybe the stones in our yards. The archive issue is something I have been rethinking lately. For one my film archive is far more manageable and user friendly because I don't need any fancy equipment to use it. I just look at my sleeves through a window or light table, and second because it used to be expensive to click the shutter, so you had less images to keep. Nowadays in our digital lives, the sheer volume of images are really starting to overwhelm me.

I do lots of commercial shoot and I archive everything I shoot, for several reasons. You never know you will be asked by the client for some image you shot last year to reuse in some other country or market. I you deleted that, then you lost some money and piss off your client. Clients expect photographers to keep copies of their jobs. I wish my archive was a couple tens of thousands but it is many times bigger, in the order of hundreds of thousands. I had to hire somebody to help me out making them findable in the media I keep them in.

This is due to something that arises another issue, which is that with digital photography it is very tempting to "sketch" with the camera a lot more than what we did with film. The beauty of of LF is precisely the contrary. The days I used to shoot fashion in 4x5, I verly seldom used more than 4 shots per image. You thought images before shooting, you made final images. With a DSLR machine gun you can very easily make 50 or more takes.
I try to shoot less and less, but it is not easy, I try to treat my camera as a LF camera, not always successfully.

I guess the best way to easily preserve our images is to print them to a decent size to archival standards.

Future archaeologists will probably find uninteresting all our professionally made images of creeks and trees and clouds. They probably find our mothers snapshots far more valuable, if they still keep.
« Last Edit: May 22, 2008, 05:00:44 PM by sergio » Logged

dalethorn
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« Reply #19 on: May 22, 2008, 06:37:09 PM »
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One point that was made here was how conventional backup systems will back up corrupted files.  Rule #1 of a good backup system is *never* write over a backed up file unless the source file has been changed deliberately.  Rule #2 is *never* write a newer file over an older backup copy unless you know why it changed and are reasonably certain the newer data is valid.  All commercial backup systems fail at this as far as I'm aware.
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