Photo archives

This afternoon, Emily and I were looking through photo albums from when I was a young child. One of many thoughts that occurred to me during the course of flipping through photos nearly a quarter-century old is the enduring quality of such media. Digital photography is a lot cheaper and more convenient, but it is also likely to be more ephemeral. Who has confidence that their digital photos will endure for twenty or thirty years? Who has the backups, and on media with that kind of lifespan? Neither burned CDs nor hard drives can really be counted upon for such a duration.

People may age may be the last generation to commonly have baby photos to look at in old age. Someone should offer a service where digital files are pressed onto bronze in file formats that will still be readable decades or centuries hence.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

15 thoughts on “Photo archives”

  1. How long do burned CDs and hard drives last?

    Also, are prints from digital cameras as durable as those from film cameras?

  2. *Remembering pictures of Milan running around wildly, hair sticking out all over, perpetually pantsless*

    It is important that we preserve moments in our childhood that help to answer questions about ourselves later on in life.

  3. metafilter recently pointed towards an article which I can’t now find about how it costs 12,000 $ a year to store a digital master print of a film, compared to 500$ for a film on negative spools.

    Paradoxically, the best way to store digital pictures may very well be transfer them to k-14 process slides. Yellow, the least stable colour, degrades on 20% after 180 years. (Compare to E6 slides, 30 years on look like garbage).

  4. The Afterlife Is Expensive for Digital Movies

    By ScuttleMonkey on new-zombie-films

    A new study shows that storing the digital master record of a film costs much more than storing archival prints. “To store a digital master record of a movie costs about $12,514 a year, versus the $1,059 it costs to keep a conventional film master. Much worse, to keep the enormous swarm of data produced when a picture is ‘born digital’ — that is, produced using all-electronic processes, rather than relying wholly or partially on film — pushes the cost of preservation to $208,569 a year, vastly higher than the $486 it costs to toss the equivalent camera negatives, audio recordings, on-set photographs and annotated scripts of an all-film production into the cold-storage vault.”

    Original NY Times article

  5. “If not operated occasionally, a hard drive will freeze up in as little as two years. Similarly, DVDs tend to degrade: according to the report, only half of a collection of disks can be expected to last for 15 years, not a reassuring prospect to those who think about centuries. Digital audiotape, it was discovered, tends to hit a “brick wall” when it degrades. While conventional tape becomes scratchy, the digital variety becomes unreadable.”

  6. It is important that we preserve moments in our childhood that help to answer questions about ourselves later on in life.

    What questions could those photos help to answer?

  7. As time goes by, we can store more data on media of the same physical size or cost. Thus, we need fewer and fewer discs as time goes on, if we were to backup our entire photo collection every two years. Rolling backups are the solution!

  8. Rolling backups are certainly a possibility, but they require a fair bit of organization. Also, the amount of work involved in making the backup increases with the number of files, as well as their diversity of types.

    A truly archival storage option would be better, at least for the kind of photos people really care about.

  9. Rosetta Disk Designed For 2,000 Years Archive

    By timothy on that’ll-do-for-now

    Hugh Pickens writes “Kevin Kelly has an interesting post about an archive designed with an estimated lifespan of 2,000 -10,000 years to serve future generations as a modern Rosetta Stone. The Rosetta disk contains analog ‘human-readable’ scans of scripts, text, and diagrams using nickel deposited on an etched silicon disk and includes 15,000 microetched pages of language documentation in 1,500 different languages, including versions of Genesis 1-3, a universal list of the words common for each language, and pronunciation guides. Produced by the Long Now Foundation, the plan is to replicate the disk promiscuously and distribute them around the world in nondescript locations so at least one will survive their 2,000-year lifespan. ‘This is one of the most fascinating objects on earth,’ says Oliver Wilke. ‘If we found one of these things 2,000 years ago, with all the languages of the time, it would be among our most priceless artifacts. I feel a high responsibility for preserving it for future generations.'”

  10. Digital Storage To Survive a 25-Year Dirt Nap?

    By timothy on lazarus-brand-only-goes-a-few-days

    AlHunt writes “I’ve been tasked with finding a way to bury digitally stored photographs in a small underground time capsule to be opened in 25 years. It looks like we’ll be using a steel vessel, welded closed. I’ve thought of CDs, DVDs, a hard drive, or a thumb drive — but they all have drawbacks, not the least of which is outdated technology 25 years from now. Maybe I’ll put a CD and a CD-ROM drive in the capsule and hope that the IDE interface is still around in 25 years? Ideas and feedback will be appreciated.”

  11. Digital Rosetta Stone memory could last a thousand years

    By Joseph L. Flatley on ThousandYearMemory

    The race for bigger and better memory continues apace, it seems. It was only a week or two ago that we caught wind of the work that scientists in Berkeley were doing with nanotubes and thousand-year-plus memory lifespans, and now it looks like a group of researchers in Japan have made some headway using an electron-beam direct-writing technique that utilizes semiconductor devices that can keep data intact for a thousand years, so long as humidity is kept at 2% or less. The prototype Digital Rosetta Stone, developed by Keio University, Kyoto University, and Sharp, has a storage capacity of 2.5TB and a max transmission speed of 150Mbps. Of course, there’s no telling if or when this will become a reality, so if you want to ensure that your adolescent poetry lasts for the next thousand years, you’d better print out your MySpace blog and have it carved in granite.

  12. Monitor
    Memories are made of this

    Sep 3rd 2009
    From The Economist print edition
    Computing: Memory chips based on nanotubes and iron particles might be capable of storing data for a billion years

    FEW human records survive for long, the 16,000-year-old Paleolithic cave paintings at Lascaux, France, being one exception. Now researchers led by Alex Zettl of the University of California, Berkeley, have devised a method that will, they reckon, let people store information electronically for a billion years.

    Dr Zettl and his colleagues constructed their memory cell by taking a particle of iron just a few billionths of a metre (nanometres) across and placing it inside a hollow carbon nanotube. They attached electrodes to either end of the tube. By applying a current, they were able to shuttle the particle back and forth. This provides a mechanism to create the “1” and “0” required for digital representation: if the particle is at one end it counts as a “1”, and at the other end it is a “0”.

  13. Synthetic Stone DVD Claimed To Last 1,000 Years

    “A start-up launched a new DVD archive product this week: a disc that it says will hold its data for 1,000 years. The company, Cranberry, says its DiamonDisc product, which can be used in any standard DVD player, is not subject to deterioration from heat, UV rays or material rot due to humidity or other elements because it has no dyes, adhesives or reflective materials like standard DVD discs, and its discs are made from a vastly more durable synthetic stone. Data is laid down on the platter much in the same way as a standard DVD disc, but with DiamonDisc the burner etches much deeper pits. Cranberry said it is also working on producing a Blu-ray version of its 1,000-year disc.”

  14. My personal photography collection has grown to 359.1 GB.

    212.71 GB of that is in my massive iPhoto Library, with images going back to when I lived in Vancouver before going to Oxford.

    There is are also 78.7 GB from personal projects, including the weddings of two of my cousins. On top of that there are 28.15 GB of additional RAW files.

    I also have 36.48 GB of commercial work.

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