Photos Need Careful Storage

Vol. XI No. 2 - SPRING 2000

By: Ellen Creager

Reprinted from the Knight/Ridder Tribune

In 100 years, your great-great grandchildren will see either beautiful photographs of your life or a faded pile of paper. They will watch crystal clear videos of the quaint folk of 1999 or confront a crumbling tape.

“There is no problem, in theory, to make color photographs last a thousand years” says Jim Reilly, director of the Image Permanence Institute at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, N.Y. The real problem is the way people store them.”

If you are going to the trouble to take photographs for posterity, take the extra step to make sure they will last 100 years: Keep originals of your most important photographs in a dry, cool and dark place.

Unfortunately, people generally pick their most precious photographs for display. For that reason, the most valuable photographs are self-selected for destruction,” says Henry Wilhelm of Wilhelm Imaging Research in Comell Iowa, who is an authority on traditional and digital image permanence. Wilhelm says scanning photos into a digital format is fine but don’t use digital as the permanent archive. In 25 years, computers may not be able to read a CD-ROM or disk from 2000 and photos will be lost.

“Using the electronic image as your permanent image at this point in history is a grave mistake,” he says. “The best insurance of having an image in 100 years is to keep what we call a human-readable record, something you can see.”

As for videotape, it’s hopelessly deteriorating medium. The binder that attaches the image portion with the magnetic audio portion likely will disintegrate after 20-40 years. Reilly says VCR’s to play them will vanish too.

The best plan is to review videotapes every five years or so. If the videotape is fading transfer it to a digital format or at least another videotape. In the next decade, you should be able to transfer the miles of video you so lovingly shot onto a tiny chip or memory card says Bob Warwick, editor of Camcorder and Computer Video magazine.

“Watch for that window of opportunity and don’t rely on tapes for documentation of your life to your grand-children,” says Reilly. The future holds promise for brilliant photographs with the permanence of oil paintings. Ink jet printers are being developed that will use dry pigments, as the oxides used in car finishes and artists paint “will up the stability performance way above contemporary photography,” says Reilly.

“We’ll have photographic prints with the stability of car finishes.”