View Full Version : why I like film

Joseph O'Neil
30-Dec-2005, 06:09
This is not a film vs digitla debate - frankly, i use digital too,a nd in a commercial marketplace, to put food on the table, i think one is hard pressed *not* to use digital.

But from a historian's perspective, i have always tried to point out to people that all digital media has inherent problems, especially for the long term archival record. One reason I love B&W film, it may not be perfect, but it's still miles ahead o other media in terms of being able to keep a record around for the next 100 or more years.

neat article today that show's my concern better than i can say it. The link is here

If you don't want to read the whole article, here's a quote
"The rapid adoption of electronic communications technology in the last decade has created a major crisis for the Archives. For one thing, the amount of data to be preserved has exploded in recent years, thanks to the proliferation of high-tech tools such as personal computers and wireless email devices such as BlackBerries. At the same time, technology is becoming obsolete so fast that electronic documents created today may not be legible on tomorrow's devices, the equivalent of trying to play an eight-track tape on an iPod."

The way i see things, 100 or 200 years from now, unless something changes, most of the pictorial record that we will ahve of our time will come form large format stills takes at this time. LF negatives and prints are increasingly unique - heck, i remember once seeing old glass plate negatives for for a dime a dozen at second hand shops when i was a kid, now they are collector's items. I can see that same thing for LF negatives, the way the world is going.


30-Dec-2005, 06:47
What is tragic to one with a concern for historical records is that the film work being done now is unlikely to be what posterity needs to see. An awful lot of LF or MF work being done today is intentional vanity and "me too" stuff that gives very little historical information. Amateurs over the years accidently made important record because they did not narrow the scope of their snapshooting to suit a trendy esthetic; records of important things (background, etc.) were included regardless.

Of course there are clear exceptions, even among some of the work by persons who frequent this site. One body of work that comes to mind is some of Paul Raphelson's (sp?) urban landscapes, "Wilderness". His photograph of a shoreline recovering or diminishing (it doesn't matter, the record later will show) with the Twin Towers in the background is just one of many I hope lasts. And if nobody else is doing film of the same, then Jorge's Mexican structures as well, while no historian will really care for more sunlight on water, a singluar wave, another emulation of (insert great name here) picture, or perfectly zoned image of just nothing.

Guy Tal
30-Dec-2005, 08:25
It would seem the bigger question here is what's worth preserving?
Just because we make more records (historically significant or otherwise) doesn't mean it all needs to be catalogged and readily available to anyone at any point in the future. We have some great records of the past, but likely most artifacts/paintings/music etc. created throughout history are lost, regardless of the medium used to record it.
You can't feed an 8-track into an iPod, but you also can't load the Rosetta Stone into Microsoft Word. So what? One has to work with the mediums of the time. Historians may later require some effort to recover records but that's hardly something I take into consideration whan I want to make an image here, now, today, to share with fellow (living) humans here, now, today.
I'm confident that "important" (subjective) documentary images will be preserved and dilligently transferred from one medium to the next. Unlike film - digital data does not deteriorate when you make multiple copies of it or transfer it among different storage media. If anything it is much more versatile than film in that regard
And why stop at film? If you want time-proven archivability - build a large pyramid in a dry desert and carve your images on its inner-most walls.


Don Wallace
30-Dec-2005, 08:45
I agree up to a point. Yes, there are problems with long term storage. Switching to digital is not just a change of image capture. One is then committed to long term technological change, including storage and data management, and this has major implications for archives. So it will not be a matter of keeping records in a particular format forever, but forever changing from one format to the next. For the forseeable future, that rate of change is relatively rapid.

On a personal level, I choose to remain with traditional film materials for the most part (I scan colour and print it on an inkjet) since both the technology and techniques of image capture, printing, and storage are well-established and extremely stable. They are also not propriatary as so much of the digital world with its vendor indiosyncracies and competing "standards" (I guess the nice thing about a standard is that everybody can have one). For most modern professionals, there is little choice but to go digital. However, those of us who can still work with traditional black white sometimes feel like the calm centre at the eye of the hurricane.

David Luttmann
30-Dec-2005, 09:23

The main difference for me, in terms of archiving is this:

I can store exact replicas of a digital image in multiple locations. If one places burns down or is flooded, I can get the exact image from another location just fine. If that happens with film.....you're done......just ask Katrina victims. We've been reading about peoples' photos on film completely destroyed in the water.....but CD & DVD media being pulled out just fine.

Now I do cheat somewhat and have scanned copies of my MF & LF films on gold CD & DVD.....but that is not quite an exact copy.

The latest gold media holds up very well in stress tests. If it is a real concern, you can always recopy every decade or two.

David Richhart
30-Dec-2005, 10:00
Preservation during a natural disaster???

The 5x7 glass plate negative of this photograph


and the entire collection of the brothers were stored in an outside shed and were under muddy water for several days during the 1913 flood in Dayton, Ohio. Fortunately, the glass plates survived the disaster.

Brian Ellis
30-Dec-2005, 10:41
Ho Hum. Does this stuff never stop?

William Mortensen
30-Dec-2005, 10:52
An odd little side observation- more and more, workers in ultra-archival media such as platinum prints are turning to digital technology to make their large negatives. While few in number, these images may, ironically (in light of this thread's concern), be among the longest lasting.

30-Dec-2005, 11:10
An odd little side observation- more and more, workers in ultra-archival media such as platinum prints are turning to digital technology to make their large negatives.

While at the same time archivists who receive only digital output are seeking to put that material on film.

David Luttmann
30-Dec-2005, 11:14
"While at the same time archivists who receive only digital output are seeking to put that material on film."


Who is doing that?

31-Dec-2005, 14:14
Probably the biggest problem with digital archiving is that the issue got ignored until it became a borderline crisis. In the content creation world ... advertising, design, video, tv and film production, publishing, etc. ... people have been working digitally for the last fifteen years with no real plan on what to do with the files after they were made. individual departments in big companies, freelancers working at home, people working at small companies, all came up with their own solutions. and they were usually pretty inflexible ones, without any consideration for how someone might be able to use those files (or even find them) several years in the future.

When I became a production artist at MTV six years ago, one of my first tasks was to fix the ridiculous archiving scheme created by my predecesor. He had just thrown all the department's work onto jazz disks, and printed out paper directories for each one. I replaced his scheme with a slightly less ridiculous one--throwing everything on DVDs, and creating a searchable electronic directory. It was a pretty lame solution, and it only addressed a few of the problems, but it was the best I could do with the available resources.

Now, after years of planning, they're doing something that a lot of companies are doing: switching to an enterprise-wide digital asset maangement scheme. Everyone at viacom is going to use the same remote servers, with custom designed interface for their department. archiving will be automatic. all the files will be on a giant, superfast server farm in new jersey and will be backed up every five minutes to another server farm in california. there will never be a shortage of space; more servers can be added at any time. media can be updated at any time as well, without shutting down the system. There are many levels of redundancy, automatic controls over versions, and customizeable controls over access rights.

This is all being done by a 3rd party company that's in the digital asset management business. I suspect this will become the norm very soon. As storage prices get below a certain point, we'll probably see services like this being used by more and more individuals. but the main point is that the larger problem is finally being taken seriously. in the analog world, the methods we have for archiving documents and artifacts have evolved over hundreds or years. the digital world is new, and so are the problems that come with it. we're just starting to see serious exploration of the solutions now.

even without elaborate solutions, there is something to be said for the reduncacy that digital archives allow. archiving will be higher maintenance than with analog, because until some univeral, future-proof file formats get agreed upon you'll always have to keep things current. but maintenance aside, there are some real advantages. if my house catches fire, i'll have an easier time grabbing my backup hard drive than two armloads of negative files.

14-Jan-2006, 17:16
The problem with digital records apart from the problem with corrupt data is things are changing so fast a system is becoming out dated before it's began. I found some old glass plates in a antique shop a while ago and all I needed to view them was simple day light, you can't do this with digital.