Is Archiving Film Necessary

AudioBlog Logo

There are two parts to this post: first an HD video for fun followed by an 8 minute thought-provoking discussion on the “need” to archive film in the hybrid workflow- click on the Audio Logo to listen…

13 thoughts on “Is Archiving Film Necessary

  1. First I’d like to say your attitude about this is refreshing in that it’s a discussion and centered around the way you work. And I would say that’s the key; it fits the way you work.

    For me keeping the negatives will remain important. The work I’ve done this week will have little impact on me in the short term, but will be revisited in the coming months and years to determine what’s important. At that point I may need to make a decision on what to do with them and who knows what will happen then.

    Photography is a life long passion for me and there are negatives I wish I still had. Some for historical reference, some for personal reasons and some just because. They were lost during a time when photography took a back seat to everything else. And while it’s certainly a possibility they may never see the light of day it’s entirely possible I’ll want them too for some unknown reason.

    As far as what happens to them when I’m gone, let’s face it, not many of us will have an archive that’s remotely interesting to a university or a collector. But since I won’t be here it’s a little irrelevant what happens to them in my mind. Should my daughter wish to do something with them more power to her, but considering her interest in my work today, I doubt they will stand through the ravages of time anyway.

    I’m also a hybrid photographer in that I expose film and then scan it. But just because it’s scanned does not mean it’s now archival. I’ve had two system meltdowns over a 10 year period that took a lot of scanned work with them. I did have backups but I also have the negatives. In addition, I have gotten better at scanning and some of my favorite work begs to be worked with new skills and new vision gained over the years.

    I sort of like your approach of one print of the image. How that fits into my photography will remain to be seen but I expect, as with all passage of time, my views will change and in 10 years I’ll have another viewpoint more in line with the times and technology.

    Just my opinion and how it would work in my photography.

    1. I agree that just because a piece of film is scanned does not mean that it is archival… I actually feel that in 10 years we will all have a large collective headache with all of the digital files and RAW images that are not readable due to the every increasing pace of digital technologies… of course the same could be said for the ability to even scan a negative as who know how long that technologies will exist, 10-15 years then what?

      I adopted the 1 of 1 print policy for several reasons (I feel another article coming on) but the rapid pace of terminated technology was one of them… I refuse to have an edition of artwork held hostage by a company deciding to stop production of a paper I love, and I have no plans on making a warehouse dedicated to paper and film storage as some photographers have done with AZO.

      Another concern with regards to the “what happens to my negatives after I die” scenario is that in many cases if they are valuable the IRS has in some cases decided to include them in the estate tax… how scary is that!

  2. Stephen,

    All great points and I’m in total agreement on the technology over the next 10 years. As it is, I’m scanning on an old Flextight Precision II that can’t be used with my current G5 because of the scuzzy connection.

    And who knows what will be readable in the near future. There are already discussions on new file systems in the new OS offerings that have me wondering what will happen to the hard drives of today much less what happens to CD, DVD storage.

    Thanks for the insight on your 1 of 1 policy. Makes absolute sense and gives me more food for thought.

    And yes, the IRS is a big scary beast. With the recent death of a family member I am all too familiar with them at the moment.

  3. Interesting discussion. I’m generally pretty open about making new prints of most of my pictures, but I’ve just started doing a series for sale that will be one offs. For work that is for sale, as opposed to pictures for me or family, one offs avoid me revisiting old work and force me to keep doing new things.

    On archival storage – I just printed 194 small images from December 2004 for my wife and she asked me to make her a CD of the images. I’mconvinced that that isless archival than the pair of external HDDs they currently reside on and that they are less archival than the box of prints I keep of anything that interests me. Digital has made things harder as it’s easier to make more exposures that we are told should be DAMed (!) and archived etc. Life is just too short. My box of prints is fine for me.


  4. I guess it will boil down to how one really works.

    I’m not a professional photographer but i’m just merely an enthusiast that takes pictures of everything and anything that captures my eyes like family events or just people walking.
    With that in mind, I like to keep my negatives with me even if I know 30 years from now my work will not have any value similar to that of Ansel Adams or HCB.

    I shoot for personal reasons with film and I have it scanned so that family and friends can see it through social networking sites. Now if my mother wants some of the pictures I’ve taken I will give it to her to have it printed at a local lab.

    I guess since my approach to photography is more personal, I like to keep the work as mine that is why I am very hesitant to throw away the negatives even if the images there are really crap.

    Right now, I might concentrate on black and white and try developing my own negatives and in the future also adopt the one print policy that you have 😀

    Have A Good One
    – A.g.

    1. I always tell people to print their images as that is the best method to ensure that it will be viewable for generations to come and it is way more personal to sit next to someone looking at an album than on a computer display.

      I keep my personal images in a different archive from my artworks and my wife would kill me if she thought I was destroying our family negatives as I agree they are different… now if I could just convince her to organize them!!!

  5. A generation or two from now, when photos can be manipulated down to the very individual pixel and beyond, who will believe the authenticity of any image at all?

    I like the idea that a negative is solid evidence that a unique or even strange event was not Photoshopped, even if I am the only one who needs such proof when I’m old and senile.

    1. all art is editive…. I sense another audio blog on this topic… now with LVT and digital negatives that match perfectly in camera negatives who is to say which is real… silver gelatin prints made from digital negatives… are they real…

  6. Never mind the serious side of all this what about the excellent video clip, top marks Stephen! Great sense of humour as always – loved it! 🙂

  7. Your approach to the negative is very Zen, and if I had 20,000 negatives to look after I might be feeling the need for a more radical approach too. But I’m a light shooter, a roll every week or so, so my archive is very slim and easy enough to manage.

    As has been said, I am skeptical of digital as an archival medium. I really worry about how our current culture will be remembered visually 100-200 years in the future. I think this prove to be the final irony as technology marches on. I think negatives stand a much better chance.

    I also agree with the comment above about the veracity of the negative. It is not an issue of editing, but of correspondence. All truth is relative, since it is part of a human abstract framework. But whether someone or something existed, or looked a certain way, or suffered a particular travail is not. The meaning of those events, especially from the perspective of art, is highly subjective, and, yes, various types of editing can effect the meaning, but this a different argument. Check out Errol Morris’ thoughts on the subject at his blog at the NY Times:

    This is relevant because we are living in a time when photographic deceit is gradually becoming an accepted norm by an increasingly credulous public.

    So,in short, I think retaining the negatives is important, now more than ever.

  8. I forgot to say that the video was funny. I especially liked the 9mm.

    David understands what I was talking about. Edit and print all you want, but isn’t it nice to have a solid version of the original image; a substrate that was actually touched by the very light that “wrote” the subject? To me, this is one of the best things about film.

    I might suffer from a bit of romanticism, but destroying negatives is like scanning a loved one’s hand written letter, changing the font, adding a few words, saving it all to disc and then destroying the original with gunfire. I would only do that to a letter from Visa. In that case I would use a 50 cal.

    1. I agree that there is something nice about looking at and going over negatives… and I also agree that it is one of the nice aspects to wet and hybrid photography. I am always torn on this issue but with my ever increasing archive and my method of working (one of one) it makes sense for me. I also agree that a 50 cal would be better… I will try to get one for my next video… I know someone who has one…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s