Permanent Images

Peter Adelstein’s Permanent Images: A Personal and Technical Memoir, 2012 highlights the importance of photographic preservation as well as the issues associated with preserving digital images. Here is an excerpt from Permanent Images:

Adelstein_2Over the course of almost a century, millions and millions of photographic images have been produced. Most of these images will never be converted to digital format. The cost and effort involved i
n scanning and archiving them would be prohibitive, and the disadvantages would outweigh the advantages. Digital photography offers tremendous advantages in the ease of taking, editing, and transmitting pictures and in the reduction in storage space needed to keep them. The unfortunate truth , however, is that digital photography is a giant step backwards in preservation. A review of the literature shows a dominant concern about reformatting and converting digital information to human-readable form before the software or hardware becomes obsolete. Machine-readable images may be satisfactory for the home consumer, who is probably interested in preservation for only about fifty years, but they are not practical for the archives, libraries, government agencies, and museums that wish to keep digital records for many centuries. I fear that a high percentage of these records will be lost. This is unfortunate, since generations make progress standing on the shoulders of earlier generations. Future generations cannot depend on the permanence of digital records. This means that they will be relying a great deal on existing material, that is, printed texts and photographic records, to learn about the past. This situation illustrates the importance of preserving our photographic information. Keeping photographic images is not an academic exercise; it is absolutely vital for our society.

After sixty-three years in the field of image permanence and at age 88, Peter Z. Adelstein retired this year. I will miss his presence, insight, and constant urging to move forward.


About Mark Mizen

I have over twenty years professional experience in all aspects of photography and digital imaging. I am Chair of the ISO WG5 TG2 committee responsible for physical properties and durability of imaging material and am currently with HID Global working on systems for security printing for IDs, licenses, and credit cards. Previously, I was Director of Digital Development at Creative Memories from 2009 to 2012 and was responsible for the Creative Memories digital products and services. I also established and directed the Creative Memories Technology Center, which evaluated new products prior to product introduction, assisted with production difficulties, and provided technical information to support product sales.
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