Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Half Gone So Don’t Lose The Rest

A report on today says half of America’s photographic history will disappear. The research was done by a reputable company, GFK you can look up at, and it was underwritten by ScanCafe, whose business self interest is an obvious incentive to fund such a poll. But in this case their self-interest does not make me have any doubts, based on the information Shutterbug magazine readers have been providing over the last decade. The reports of home stored photographic images that have been lost to fading, fungus and mildew and just plain poor storage in a damp environment, would have me guess what is lost may be even more than half.

Photographers began using color film in ernest in the 60’s and as the 35mm SLR enthusiasm grew by leaps and bounds the total of accumulated consumer photographs people have stored in those ubiquitous shoe-boxes may be even more than the estimated 550 billion suggested by the research. I’ve been photographing and using color since the fifties and other than Kodachrome slides most of my color images from the first 15 years of my photography are not recoverable, and only the slides and very few color negatives from the mid 60’s through 1980 can be considered in good condition. And I am pretty careful about storage and live in a raltively dry climate. So any photographer with a library of film images in color if they want their images preserved, should think about scanning the film and then archiving the files, would be my recommendation.

But also from the e-mail I receive from Shutterbug readers I get the impression the cost of a good scanner is less of an inhibitor to scanning than a concern that scanning is an odious, boring task and is hard to learn. When I first began scanning film in the beginning of the 90’s the software was not user friendly and both scanners and computers were slow, so it was tedious. But as the technology has improved as well as what can be done in the scanning process to reproduce very fine photographic qualities sometimes from mediocre to poor quality film images, is a challenge that is both fun to do and extremely satisfying. It is every bit as interesting and engaging as old fashioned darkroom developing and enlarging was, but in a much more comfortable environment free of noxious fumes and squinting in the dim illumination of a safelight.

Of course some would rather consider having the scanning done for them and that’s why a company like ScanCafe exists. In fact for a period in my life I was too busy to do my own scanning and at the time Kodak offered scanning to a CD through a number of labs which I took advantage of. But like having color prints made, even by a top-dollar pro lab, I was seldom really satisfied the results were what I had in mind, and I really dislike being one of those difficult impossible to satisfy customers. So, now semi-retired I have been able to spend more time scanning, and the more I do the better I get at it, and the more enjoyment I get from making an image look even better than it did when I first made the photograph.

And today, when time may be easier to come by than money, at the affordable prices of a good scanner, it’s as good a hobby as taking pictures with a digital camera because other than a miniscule amount of electricity burned, it cost nothing to scan film, and almost nothing to archive the resulting files on Gold/Gold CD’s. I’ve now filled about 600 CD’s with scanned film images I made in the past, and I’m happy I’ll probably never finish scanning my entire library because I’m having more fun with photography than ever.

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