Are you concerned about future history? Should you be?
Upon return of a recent trip to Africa, I was pondering the fate of oh-so-many photos (upwards to 300) stored on the fragile wafer of flash memory in my digital camera. Sure, I would put the best of the lot on the family web site to share with distant friends and relatives -- and we would print the obligatory set of "memories" for the photo album and treasured picture frames on the mantle. How about all the other tens-of-thousands of photos taken since I abandoned film cameras -- all stored 'safely' to CD, DVD or on assorted hard drives? What of history?
After the death of my father, the thoughts of preserving a legacy went from a vague and distant concept to a crystal clear slap in the face. Many of the artifacts of his life are securely stored for future generations.
Some years ago, at my father's request, I preserved a faded photo of his parents, Mama and Papa, with the little-known, century-old technique of photo-gravure. No, not the printed result -- but the printing plate itself. Yes, this near extinct process of engraving an image into a metal plate, once used by the newspaper industry, proved ideal for showing future generations what Mama and Papa actually looked like. The sheet of .060 magnesium alloy, acid etched with a halftone, would last (so they say) for perpetuity. And, as my good friend and attorney Don Litten says "perpetuity is a long, long time."
I'm concerned about future history. Today's generation, careening head-first into each new twist of technology seems to ignore the future. But what about their future history?
In my oblivious, reckless youth, I was like that too. I (and most others I knew at the time), could have cared less about the future or our own future history. Now, I regret the fact that I didn't stop for a moment and realize that in forty years I might want to remember what happened. I didn't realize that some day I might sorely yearn for some visual reminder of the things, friends, family and times -- of the here and now.
I have a photo of my father's first business building. It's handsomely preserved in stunning black and white. Thank heavens for silver halide. Those well preserved silver-based photos will last another hundred years or so. My children's, children's children will be able to see those photos. But what about today's future history... and tomorrow's?
Over the weekend I attended a reunion of local rock-and-roll stars from forty to fifty years ago. It was great! The bands jammed, and the 'old timers' rekindled those songs of the long-gone day. I even got a little workout on the keyboards myself. But it seems that within every conversation about 'the day' it was mentioned more than once ... "Man, I really wish we could find some of those photos!" Our memories serve us well -- but we have nothing to show for it. What of those who follow us. More than a few attendees asked me if I still had any of the posters, handbills or photos of by-gone bands. As the 'graphic artist' of the day, I usually had a hand in such memorabilia. I could only sadly decline.
How long will today's CD / DVD media last? No one knows. But when we learn the mortality of those mediums, it will be too late. How many have lost countless and precious photos due to computer failure or hard drive crashes?
What will the next medium be? That's the big question. Will it be compatible with today's bit-image structure of CD/DVD? Will there be time to convert it all? I spent quite a bit of time and effort converting files from 400K and 1,400K floppies to hard drives, removable media and CDs. But I didn't even come close to finishing. Today, none of the equipment available will read those floppies or those Syquest carts. I just have to give them a rightful burial -- in the landfill -- by the hundreds -- wondering what treasures they contain.
How many photos do you print? Are you using the fragile, perishable inkjet prints? Have you kept a diary? Are your writings on preservation-quality paper? How will you remember what happened? How will you be remembered?
Are you concerned about future history? Some day you might be.
Thanks for reading...
Fred Showker, Editor, Graphic Design & Publishing