About Photographs

Brazilian FlowerI have taken roughly 10,000 photographs since my interest in photography dawned at age 14. My early photographs are catalogued, and I am ever thankful I did that as my brain would never have been able to remember all those faces or places.

None of my post-marriage photographs are catalogued and virtually all of the prints are still in the same envelopes the film processor mailed to us. We look at them only rarely.

Today I am in the process of taking that huge photographic archive plus my parents’ collection and digitizing them all, using a Nikon Coolscan V ED negative scanner. The resulting 6000×4000 pixel images (in JPEG format) take up on average about 25 megabytes apiece on my hard drive. Eventually, the resulting 250 gigabytes of digitized photographs will become the archive of my family and me. Losing that archive to a hard disk crash is not something I want to consider, so everything will get backed up to one or two different media, hopefully a media that will not be too obsolete in ten years.

And that’s a problem. Each new digital format means that some old format will no longer be supported. Floppy disks are essentially gone. Non-SATA hard disks are obsolete. CD ROMs, with their 720 MB limitations, are destined for perhaps the Smithsonian, but not the average person’s home. Even DVDs, which were introduced in late 1996, are bound to go the way of the Dodo as Blu-ray discs replace them as the recording medium of choice.

Each new generation of ever-denser but not necessarily longer-lasting media means that my archive will have to be converted again and again. Unless my children see merit in what I am doing, my last conversion will take place shortly before I die, and roughly ten years after that my photographic collection will be gone. In a sense I miss the days of silver halide and B&W prints which, when stored carefully, have a shelf life of a hundred years.

My life will have been defined by about 2.5 trillion bits. In the not so distant future, some genealogical member of my family may whittle it down to this:

  • Born:
  • Married to:
  • Died:
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