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Sunday, 20 February 2011


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I repeat my suggestion from Part I that prints can be put into book form, made relatively easy these days by self-publishing software. The book lends itself to both the print and the accompanying narrative. The book becomes the box. And storage only requires a shelf or table.

I recognize that book reproductions are not the same as fine prints (although some books include them), but I treasure the books from photographers I admire, especially from those whose prints I'm not fortunate enough to own. Many of the reproductions are jewels.

I currently maintain 2 portfolios of my best prints; one for black and white and one for color. I constantly update and rotate the prints, keeping in mind some meaningful sequencing. I fully anticipate that over time there will be more portfolios, with some eventually translated into book form.

Meanwhile, I find the portfolios a wonderful way to present my best prints to those who wonder what sort of photography I do. Prints of interest have a way of getting personally matted, framed and signed for future gifts.

My best gift was received when I asked my parents to create an album of our family's photos for my 40th birthday (20 years ago), with accompanying explanations. I asked my dad to write a letter to me for the album sharing some of his remembrances of the people in the album. I also had him take me on a tour of our hometown so that I could take pictures of every house and neighborhood where he, my mom and our family lived. This was done none too soon, as my dad now has Alzheimer's and could no longer have shared this precious information. I need to get that album reproduced...thanks for the reminder, Mike.

Wow. Thank you Mike, as I look though the viewfinder of my late grandmother's canon point and shoot and realize, at last, why she cut the heads off our family portraits for the last 40 years. Damn parallax lines and damn fine memories.


One hell of a pair of posts, Mike.

Regarding the portfolio you left behind, perhaps 'twere best left so...

In my case, it was my one and only ever completed stained/leaded glass piece that I left behind. I never had to ask for it back, because as I walked away from the final hostilities, it came at me launched from the second floor window.

My friends joked for weeks...

In an off-blog exchange, I suggested to Mike that one way of trying to ensure the survival not of photographs, but of images, would be to take the most valuable images of your own, and from the past, scan them, print them with a good pigment printer on carefully chosen paper, and then have them bound by a book binder. I suspect that starting from scratch, and buying the scanner, printer, paper, any necessary software could cost less than $1,000 -- I'm referring now to relatively small prints, done on a smaller Epson printer but with the latest pigmented inks,and laid out with something like Photoshop Elements. Of course, most people here probably have most of the necessary machinery already (printer and software, anyway. Scanners, I think, are fairly cheap.)

Note than I am talking about saving the *images*, not the original photos. You can do what you wish to save them, but many of them can not be saved, long term. Ordinary drugstore color photos, poorly done, seem to eat themselves in a few decades, and you would need an expensive conservator to save them, if that's even possible.

But, if they were scanned, printed with good ink, and then bound in a leather-covered book that would be valuable as an artifact in its own right, it's quite possible that you would produce something that would be around in several hundred years. If I were to do this, and I might, for my grandchildren, I might even donate a couple copies to the state historical society. If the binding was good enough, I bet they'd take it. And once on their climage-controlled shelves, a carefully made book could last indefinitely.


Ah, the only thing to truly safeguard one's survival is to be remembered. In that case an estate or loving family can be of help. Making a name for yourself can also help, but fame is more relative then relatives. But what if non of your work survives, would that be a tragidy, I make pictures for the here and now, and if someone thinks the here and now is wearth preserving, there are millions of pictures in the vaults of Flickr, Facebook, Piccasa, the Microsoft photo collection and Getty images......as long as power runs through these computers, they will be preserved (or at least they should be). I think sites like Flickr and Piccasa don't know the treasures they have ammased and I think these sites should be currated. They have become the digital memory of our planet....and they cannot afford total amnesia.....

Greetings, Ed

Hi there Ctein, thank you for publishing these thoughtful articles about archiving our photo prints. I too followed the road of archival permanence obsession when I was cutting my teeth on darkroom fine printing - following the road of double weight fibre paper, fancy print washers, hypo clearers, selenium toners and so on. Over twenty years later I can count on both hands the number of prints that went through that process that I still treasure and hang on the wall. I think the rest eventually fell by the wayside with moving house several times.

I like to be a bit more philosophical about it these days. If my photos disappear, then so be it - they had their creative moment and their glory for a little while. Perhaps I can take a leaf out of the conceptual artist's book and think that maybe it's not the photo itself that's important, but what I am trying to do with it. They are born, they take a life of their own, we set them free into the world, they eventually fade away and perish, and if we are lucky they will leave some kind of influence and legacy.

Very good series Mike. The archiving problem is hard, from the Library of Congress on down. A couple of years ago I donated a large print (96 x 42 inches) to my then-employer. We permanently spray-glued it to the drywall in a colleague's office - it could be destroyed, but not moved elsewhere without a sawzall. The company was sold, the building vacated, and the print now hangs in an empty office building, awaiting the next economic cycle. I think of it as tossing a message in a bottle into the ocean, artist's statement and all.

Thank you for this article. It is why I come here everyday. This discussion made me wonder about digital though, and the added problems that go with that. Will there be software that can open a cr2 file 100 years from now? Will someone even know how to extract pictures from my hard drive after I (and software vendors alike) have taken so many pains to secure and hide everything from thieves and other enemies of privacy.

I have started putting captions on my digital images, just add a 1/2 inch to the bottom of the image and start typing.



In Graves' I Claudius, the Emperor decides of his historical record to "just leave them lying about", reasoning that that gave them a better chance of surviving than some official record deposit.

I wonder what will happen to all the flickr tags. I think the same will apply. Leave them lying about in a few places.

After the 1993 bombing that destroyed much of one tower's underground garage and a hotel, it was hardly a safe place for storing valuables in a vault.

"Charlie's picture doesn't do well in this respect. Presumably aspen trees will still look the same a hundred years from now. Then again, maybe not"

It's interesting that you mentioned this, Mike. On Saturday, one of the local news stations had a piece on aspen decline in Colorado due to climate change. The online version can be found here:


While it's human to assume that landscape photography will always be as it is because of the slow rate of change relative to our short time on this rock, the reality is that our world is constantly changing both because of and in spite of us.

And while we tend to think of the geologic pace of change of the land around us, it's amazing how quickly it can happen, too. In the span of my lifetime (which numbers only 30 years) the character of Rocky Mountain National Park has completely changed as a result of the devastation of the pine bark beetle.


I have slides of this same area taken 10 years ago that are completely free of the brown of all the beetle kill trees. The west side of the park is even worse. The area around Grand Lake is so brown that I rarely venture there anymore.

One can argue until he or she is blue in the face about who or what is driving climate change. The fact remains that it is part of the cycle of our lives. Shots of large stands of golden aspen may be as interesting in 100 years as shots of treeless images of Georgetown, CO are today (the hills were completely clear cut for fuel and building supplies during Colorado's mining boom):


I think that all your advice is equally important for landscape photography as every other genre of photography.

I've been piling up prints myself, and FINALLY got around to starting to trim them up and stuff them into albums. I went nuts trying to find an actual paper photo album -- most everything has these terrible plastic envelopes (which, I know, will do a better job of preserving!) which I hate. I finally found kolo.com which sells archival albums with cardstock pages and photo corners. Now I'm living in the 1920s again, and I've got a home for at least one copy of each of my prints!

While the post's title is specific to inkjet prints, I can't help but wonder what happens to all of the millions (billions?) of digital photos stored only on a computer. Will anyone ever find them, or value them?

Since I'm a photographer, I'd like many of my photographs to be passed down as a part of my legacy. I have numerous hard drives full of images, ranging from raw to finished. But, once I'm gone, I doubt if anyone would have the time, training or inclination to go searching through the files to find my favorites. I suspect the drives will get stuffed into a box and stored until they're obsolete, then they'll be tossed out.

To help protect my legacy, I make prints of my favorite images. They may still be stuffed into boxes, or become fadeed or torn or get tossed out, but at least someone will see them first. And, I'm pretty sure the prints won't become an obsolete technolgy.

Sound and practical advice here Mike, but survival is such a transient and relative thing. Specifically, how long must something survive in order for it to count? Longer than our lifetime? Longer than our children’s? While entirely plausible that a photo taken today might survive a hundred years or more, is it realistic to assume that survival of said photo for something a bit longer, say 1000 years, is even possible, let alone probable? How many works of art from 1000 years ago survive today, expressed as a percentage of the sum total created back then? And if 1000 years seems too easy, what about 10,000 years or 100,000 years?

My point is that beyond some length of time (and I don’t claim to know what that length is), survival is essentially impossible. Indeed, this raises an even greater philosophical question, that of whether anything can survive in an absolute sense. The best and brightest (of whom I am not one) generally agree that the universe is ever expanding, ultimately to become infinitely large and infinitely cold, effectively ceasing to exist altogether. In the face of that rather depressing “reality”, survival seems to be a moot point.

From my own perspective, I simply try to enjoy that which exists today, knowing full well that neither I nor my work will last forever. And to the marketeers who would like us to believe that insert-favorite-cliché-here is/are forever, I say forever is an entirely temporary phenomenon.

Continuing the `don't sweat it' angle, think of it as memetic evolution with a wide-pass acceptance filter.

Obvious example: consider the relationship between Atget and Abbott who took *some* of his collection.

E.O.Hoppé, a new - to me - photographer to discover and learn about. Thank you Mike.

My wife showed me some prints she found in her family's archives, one of a rather distinctive man in a top hat, smiling at the camera. I recognized the person immediately: Al Smith, Governor of New York State in the twenties.

Ultimately, this is why I love TOP: It transcends the technical with something like wisdom.

"...Personally, I have at least a sentimental regard for those humans of the future whose attics we are stocking with the work we do now. "

Thanks Mike!

Good practice. You probably realize how very eager railroad buffs are for pictures to be identified!


Even worse....

108 of 253 episodes from the first six years of Doctor Who are missing. They were wiped (or "junked") by the BBC during the 1960s and 1970s for economic and space-saving reasons.


It gets even weirder...

"LONG-lost Doctor Who episodes thought to be hidden away in Zimbabwe may never be recovered because despot Robert Mugabe hates the UK. BBC investigators believe the troubled nation holds some of the early episodes of the cult series which are still missing. But tyrant President Mugabe has banned the Beeb from setting foot in his country."



Mike, I've got an uneasy feeling that you can sum up both of the articles in one sentence: Life's a bitch and then you die. :)

I think Richard has got a very good point about digital. The sheer number of photos taken is overwhelming. Just take a look at Picasa albums: "me at the beach" and pfrrrrt! - 399 photos. Facebook profiles - new profile photos almost every day. The phrase "ephemerality of photography" has taken a quantum leap upwards. :)

"While entirely plausible that a photo taken today might survive a hundred years or more, is it realistic to assume that survival of said photo for something a bit longer, say 1000 years, is even possible, let alone probable? How many works of art from 1000 years ago survive today, expressed as a percentage of the sum total created back then?"

Consider, though, that at some point, age itself becomes a preservative—at some point the survivors begin to be honored just *because* they're old. (Search this site for "trough of no value.")

Consider, too, all of the major artwork that has survived the millennia. Not everything, by any means, but not a trivial amount, either. And art historians keep track of the losses--you can Google "Lost Artworks" for a listing of major pieces "that credible sources indicate once existed but that cannot be accounted for in museums or private collections or are known to have been destroyed or neglected through ignorance and lack of connoisseurship."


Okay, I'm amused -- my current count gives six "featured comments" and no regular comments :-) . Apparently this topic is bringing out the best in us (or at least others)!

That's just an artifact of my working method and an accident of timing on your part. What I do is read through all the comments first, moderating and editing as I go along, during the course of which I might extract a few to "Feature," and then I post all of them--minus the ones I featured. If you sign in at just the right time in the process, as you just did, you'll see featured comments but no other comments posted.


Ah well. It was amusing while it lasted.

Some of the considerations that make survival of physical artwork for 1000 years very very problematic do not apply to digital media. Yes, other limiting considerations apply there, and it's easy to describe scenarios where digital artwork doesn't survive either. Still, the important thing is, the rules change. Predictions based on the old rules will be wrong.

Thanks Mike great coverage on a much neglected topic. Maybe the N.Y.Times will pick it up and spread the word.

It seems like a lot of time and resources could go down this rabbit warren for the sake of perceived loss. It is tricky though, because there are occasions where it has proven to be warranted… but mostly that isn’t the case I suspect. I think the problem is deciding what to put the effort into and for the other 99% to be able to “Don’t seat it”

I mainly take photos of my daughter. She would probably prefer I play with her rather than spend my time organising our memories/stuff (being a bit obsessive, it could easily get out of hand and dominate my attention) but at the same time a few special ones should be preserved for later, hard to know which ones will be important at this end of the timeline though. Bit of a balance I think.

I think it is OK to let most stuff slide away in time, today is unlikely to be important tomorrow.


I'm not adding anything to the discussion, I'm just posting to say that you are a fine, fine writer and this is a excellent rumination on this fascinating subject.

But I will add this, from Ken Kesey via Tom Wolfe (Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test): "All art is temporary. Even the Mona Lisa is fading."

We have all been discussing one boundary condition for the intrinsic value of photographic prints or digital images, i.e., the premise that they could conceivably last in perpetuity, or at the very least have enduring value that deserves a whole hearted effort to pass on generation to generation. Let us now consider the other boundary condition. Since nothing lasts forever or as Mike suggested in a devil's advocate kind of way "don't sweat it", I therefore draw camera viewfinder to my eye, compose the frame, burn the scene into my own memory to last my lifetime, but then I stop... I don't squeeze off the shot... because the recorded image won't last forever, so it doesn't really doesn't matter! It's all an intellectual construct.

It seems that the practice of photography provides an underlying promise of freezing a moment in time forever yet is fallible in so many ways. OK, so maybe a photograph is truly suitable only as an instant replay for friends and family Beyond that, just erase the image and move on! This is a very logical argument about the folly of this game, but my instinct still tells me photography is a better use of my time than many other things I could do. So, I keep making photographs, and I keep doing my best to preserve them.

I still repeat my suggestion to have a multi-region digital archive paid by the owner or sponsors of the photos for long keeping. Sort of flickr/pbase with a thinking of long time survival in mind.

I would hope that Jacques Lowe's work is not lost, didn't he make prints, get them published or at least get them in people's hands?
I know I have at least 75,000 prints out there that people have valued enough to buy, maybe not the ones I would have been my first choice, but they bought what meant something to them and hopefully some will survive. And they are not "easy-keepers" they are big, four feet long and longer contact prints.
Sadly they are color prints from negatives. They may last longer than ink-jet or maybe not. I don't think the tests answer that question, do they?
Can these ink-jet prints last over 100 years? I hope so. I do put some out in the world. But why would they? It seems to me that it was a complete accident that B&W prints from the first hundred years of photography lasted well and that color prints from the 60's and 70's are all gone.
Have we learned anything?

Jeff's suggestion of self-publishing books resonates with me--it's much easier than, say, producing fine-art grade prints and having them bound in leather. And you can easily make a bunch and give them to sundry young relatives.

But it brings up another question: what is the longevity of the cheap photo books from Blurb, Lulu, MPIX, etc.? What happens to the ink/toner when the book is left closed at the bottom of a big box? I've seen plenty of cases when low-quality laser printing peels off on the facing page.

Are there online publishers that offer archival quality books?

Not being a really good photographer myself, I'm never going to be troubled with "My best pictures 1965 - ?" archive taking up more than a slim A4 portfolio, but the idea is something I have been working on in a broader sense.

My life is not defined by physical images, but there are very many things that I would wish anyone coming after me to have undamaged and recognise that those things were important to me - books, papers, recordings and so on. I bought a couple of years ago (and it wasn't cheap, just under £2000) a high quality fire and waterproof filing system. The container is about 5 feet tall and nearly 3 wide. That's the archive of my life, and those close to me know it. My only worry is dampness but so far it has not been an issue.

And now, for something completely different... yet another example of the 'don't sweat it' attitude. In (the great TV documentary)"Monty Python: Almost the Truth" Terry Gilliam tells the story of how he had to rescue MPFC's tapes from the BBC (about to go the way of the moon landing tapes). Now *that* would have been 'no fun anymore'!

Fantastic articles Mike - spurs me to start going through my photos and pick out ones to print, annotate and organize; that is, as soon as I finish selecting which among the thousands of our wedding pictures our photographer should include in the wedding album. I don't think my wife is going to take too kindly to me creating collections of photos of old office mates while our wedding shots lie forlornly neglected in a corner of the hard drive!

Will there be software that can open a cr2 file 100 years from now? Will someone even know how to extract pictures from my hard drive after I (and software vendors alike) have taken so many pains to secure and hide everything from thieves and other enemies of privacy.

I don't think it's a case of 'will someone know how to?' more likely will anyone be interested? The analogy I always use is that of clearing the house of a deceased relative. If you find an old photo album, the chances are that you will open it up and have a look through it and usually someone will decide to keep hold of it. I do't think the same could be said for someone finding a few CDs.

From Lin Din's poem: Recent Archeo News

20th February 3006-Ancient toilet Discovered in Boston, lid missing

22 January 3006-Post modern poem found in Dogs grave, tucked in anus.

I've got got me a dog

Great article Mike. Family relationships can also have a big effect. In my wife's family one sibling elected to take for safekeeping all the family photos (mainly Kodachromes and old b&w negs) after both parents died. Only problem is, that was years ago and no-one's seen them since. There was mention once of "copying the worthwhile ones" but I don't think they have a scanner. The more years pass, the more difficult it gets. Scanning them would be a very big job.

NB. You might be interested to know the BBC produced a fine Stephen Poliakoff drama called Shooting The Past, about the sometimes surprising value of old, archived photographs http://www.amazon.co.uk/Shooting-Past-BBC-Lindsay-Duncan/dp/B0000AISIF. Well worth a look if you haven't seen it before.

"I've got got me a dog"

Did your wife approve this comment? [g]


Entropy is a bitch.

I've been having a form of Archive Panic myself recently (well, the last year). I've been scanning and sorting and cleaning up the best I could dozens of shoe boxes of my mom's from the last 60 years. Fortunately she took meticulous notes on what was where, and what she didn't know I was able to figure out ("Lets see, I was wearing a Mt St Helen's eruption shirt, so it has to be after 1980, and I was wearing the same shirt with a Pac Man hat - meaning that has to be 1982!") - but while the archeology was fun, I cant see anyone else doing it.

It's been a a year of intensive work, and I cant see anyone without a vested interest in it taking that kind of time. Hell, as it is the photos from the 50s and 60s are a chore to get through even for me.

So yeah, while I understand that my art is ephemeral, I'm at least going to write the dates and a quick description on the back of my printed photos to give Future People some kind of context.

Did your wife approve this comment? [g]

Sadly no, She's too busy looking after
my post modern poem

You make several excellent points, but the one that resonates with me the most is that I too (heeding the lesson of Mr. Cramer) should sell several hundred prints... in the name of preservation. ;-) (if only it were that easy).

Mike, I have a specific question regarding an interesting collection of photographs. About 35 years ago, my father, a photographer, was given a box of bw negatives with corresponding contact prints.

The images are all from 1945-1947 in Seoul and Japan - probably 300-400 images. Almost all of the prints have detailed, handwritten info on the back.

Being 39 years old, I am also unfamiliar with the negative format? I originally thought they were 6x9, but the negatives do not fit in 120/220 sleeves and they seem a bit wider than a 2x3 ratio? The negatives are 2 1/4 x 4 1/4. The contact prints are all individual black and white prints with the word VELOX on the back. They were printed at Bromfield Camera in Boston in the late 1940s. almost all of it is in perfect condition.

There are a few images of a LT. Col. from the US military and they are almost surely his images. There is also a photograph, along with address, of what is probably his house in a suburb of Boston.

I may try to track this family down - this guy is almost certainly gone as he looked at least 30 in the images in 1947.

My question. Given the recent thread and the wish that folks would document the who, what, when, where on prints so that images remained important, is there an outlet for images like these? A collection of medium format images documenting people and places in Korea before the start of the Korean War, with quite detailed documentation. Where would you start?


John Gillooly

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