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Preserving History
If you're like most people on this site, I suspect you take a few thousand photos yearly. I know I do. I'll be honest, a great many of mine are hardly worthy of a second look, but they accumulate in my computer's hard disk. Maybe a hundred or so yearly warrant that second look. Some, though even fewer, deserve 'historical retention' (for want of a better term).

Let's work on the thought that the image of a great sunset, general landscape or flower isn't going to have 'historical retention' value unless it won some major prize. But very probably the photos of the kids, family heirloom photos (think of Tacheles' photos by his Great-aunt Sophia in the early 1900s), and other shots of significant times or events will be worth passing to later generations. Maybe not all excel technically, but the content creates the value.

Sadly, in many cases, unless the images are accompanied by some notation to identify who or what they're about, they become almost meaningless. We have 'heirloom' family photos which fail that test. Anonymous (presumably family) people from the 1800s, photos my father took in the Pacific in WW2: all meant something to those who took or were in them, now the relevance is lost and the images almost worthless.

That would be the case with almost all the images in my computer, assuming someone was prepared to wade through all the 'unimportant' stuff to find those of long term value. Then again, I also have collections of negatives, prints, and colour slides, taken in pre-digital times. Most are unlabelled, even those I consider significant.
And I haven't even started to talk about the colour print photos from the 1970s. I presume the condition of those is much the same worldwide: the colour has long since 'fallen out' and the prints have faded to a dullish orange colour with almost no contrast. Now unusable. At least I have the negatives for most, if I get around to copying them.

What if, long ago, we'd had digital cameras? We bought an Amstrad 6128 computer way back in the 1980s, it had 128K of memory compared to only 64K in the Commodore 64 (!!), but it had a different floppy disk to any other computer. At work there were computers with large paper packet floppy disks (those really were “floppy” :-)). And the interesting thing is that none of the material from the various disks or software of those times would be readily accessible today. My current computer doesn't have a floppy disk reader of any kind and even CD/DVDs are becoming obsolescent. Digital storage has very clear limitations.

Save the material on the hard disk? A year or two back I had a hard disk crash: are all your digital images backed up? Maybe put them on 'the cloud'? Just the past few days, I was told that an early internet social forum “Friends Reunited” is about to close – and have you checked the ipernity blog item “Uptime 3535”? If not, I'd strongly suggest doing so right now.

So the message from all that is that I see electronic records as a very mixed blessing, useful indeed in the “here and now” but rather ephemeral. And loose 'hard copy' images without detail are useless. If you want to save something you consider important for posterity, what's the answer?

I have a good general idea of what among my collections I consider of value (in a long term personal/family historical sense). And that is why I have been busy copying my collection of slides and negatives, such as this one.
In recent weeks I have been busy putting many of the more significant of my Antarctic photos, taken 50 years ago (where has the time gone?) into book form. Over the past few days I have finished and it is now published. In it, apart from the photos, I have included words and explanations to make the strange doings and technology of pre-internet days comprehensible to younger readers: how many of them would have heard of (or know the purpose of) a teleprinter or a telegram boy? I am passing copies of my book to family members.

Some of the images and stories you can read on my “Antarctica back then” album www.ipernity.com/doc/tiabunna/album/471761, but there are many more in the book. If you're interested, you can see a preview of it here www.blurb.com/b/6854165-yikla-well-usually and you also can purchase a copy of the book through that site. I hope to also make it available as an Ebook (when I work out how to do so, LOL). The book tells the story of living and working at Mawson Station in 1966 and on a four month surveying trip to remote and previously unvisited mountains, with just six other people and only morse code radio contact with the outside world. I have shown the book and our survey trip route in red on the following photo.
I hope this article gives you some food for thought on which of your images you may want to leave as 'significant items' for posterity and how you might go about ensuring that they retain their relevance and accessbility.

16 comments

Roger (Grisly) said:

A thoughtful article George,
It is for this very reason I have spent years scanning and logging old family photographs and slides, From time to time I give a Cd of all these image and information to my children and family members, hopefully it will not be lost this way.
3 years ago

tiabunna replied to Roger (Grisly):

Thanks, Roger. I'm glad to hear that you've been pro-active on this. "Long term" storage really does seem a major issue that rarely gets much coverage in the photographic media.
3 years ago

beverleyplaya said:

Yes indeed George you have raised some valid points ... food for thought indeed .. thanks !
3 years ago

tiabunna replied to beverleyplaya:

Thanks very much, Bev.
3 years ago ( translate )

Tacheles said:

That's a great idea, George. I'd just a brief glimpse into your book. The IQ is fascinating and you did a really good job. Even when you are gone one day, your descendants may enjoy the stories, because you have linked information to the images that make them as an intriguing window into a great and icy world of the 1960s adventurers.

I am confessed, sooner or later our images, stored as bits on a HDD will be victims of bit-rot or incompatibility.

The oldest images I own, of my great grandfather, are from the 1880s and as fresh and clean as being exposed a few weeks ago.

Conclusion: Electronic images are transient, paper is forever (except these from the 1970s with the ugly colour cast).

Your project encourages me to follow your steps.

Thanks.
Monsieur Tacheles
3 years ago

tiabunna replied to Tacheles:

Merci beaucoup, Monsieur Tacheles. I've been delighted with the way the book came up (said he, modestly). The paper quality is very good and the printing of the photos is top class. And yes, if we can preserve our significant records as well as your great-grandfather's images have lasted, that will be a success.
3 years ago

Pam J said:

Excellent article George ! Your book too is wonderful

I LOVE BLURB!! I have been using it for around 8 years now... and one of the latest projects started 2 years ago it to make a Heritage Book of the old family photos I have.

So... this article certainly rang a bell for me.
3 years ago

tiabunna replied to Pam J:

Thanks very much, Pam. I learned about Blurb when on a photographic tour a few years back. One of the other participants used it regularly for recording his travels and agreed to produce and edit a book of images from the trip by the combined group: it's a great record and I'll be doing more I'm sure.
3 years ago

Janet Brien said:

Congratulations on the book!!! Fantastic!!!

It is a huge job to keep photos in order. I try to hack through mine and toss whatever I can, and all of them are organized into folders describing the day or event. It MUST be done for memory's sake!
3 years ago

tiabunna replied to Janet Brien:

Thanks, Janet. Yes, the archive-keeping can be quite a time-consuming and demanding process. And the need to identify the 'long term keepers' is very real. It puzzles me why there is so little about this in the photographic media.
3 years ago

Polyrus said:

A very interesting read, George. Thank you for sharing.
Whilst I do not profess to be so efficient, I copied all my family slides and travel negs (most but not all annotated), from my hard drive onto a DVD for my son. What he does with them is his choice.

Railway images are a different matter entirely. I still have not scanned all that I have but those I have scanned are finding their way onto eBay where most sell for several times more than their vintage film cost me. There is a huge demand for railway history in the UK. Why keep original negs and slides which are deteriorating annually, when they may give much pleasure to others ...and also keep me in pocket money.
3 years ago

tiabunna said:

Thanks, Neil. I'd hardly claim to be overly efficient when I'm at last doing something useful with material from 50 years ago! But at least I've now done this much and I'll try to make the 'best of the rest' usable and searchable for my children (then, as you say, what they do with them is their choice). I totally see the logic of you scanning, saving, then selling your old railway images - they are subject matter that would interest many people and you will still retain a record - and the funds for new camera gear or whatever.
3 years ago

Lian said:

"in many cases, unless the images are accompanied by some notation to identify who or what they're about, they become almost meaningless" - can't agree more.
3 years ago

tiabunna replied to Lian:

Lian, my apologies for not replying sooner, your comment slipped past me previously. Thanks very much.
3 years ago

just"jj" said:

This is both interesting and useful, tiabunna.
:)
Thanks.
21 months ago