Ken Burns is recognized as one of the great documentary filmmakers of this century. With works like “Baseball”, “The Civil War” and soon to be released, “Prohibition” his images weave an intricate historical narrative.
An interesting thing about film making, though; it generally involves moving images. Yet Burns’ works contain almost exclusively fixed images; photographs, illustrations and paintings. Most film editing software ( I use Adobe Premiere Pro) allow the editor to animate fixed images, zooming, scaling, shifting axis. This lends a bit more interest to a fixed image and allows the viewer to focus on the scene slightly longer.
An interesting fact is that much of what we know about the Civil War is due to the vast archives of physical images. Many are glass plates, some film on paper. Though celluloid degrades over time, glass plate images are resilient and can last for centuries. With digital technology these can be enhanced through color correction, balance and blemish removal.
Film and film processing is becoming rare, replaced largely by digital camera technology. My wife, who used to develop her own black-and-white film, finally abandoned her 35mm SLR camera and has gone completely the digital route. But the adoption of new technology has now presented us with a new problem – long-term storage and retrieval.
We began collecting digital images with our earliest computers, initially saved to floppy disks, then hard drives. Today in some cases a single photo image file is larger than the entire 20mb hard drive of my first computer! I remember at the time the computer salesman assured me I would “never fill up that hard drive”.
But the insatiable storage demands of data storage, including photographic images, has required me to seek ever larger capacity devices over time. I’ve gone through “Zip” drives, then larger “Jaz” drives. When that became inadequate I began filling up CD’s then larger capacity DVDs; eventually turning to assorted “Tape” drives. As it stands now, much of what I have stored digitally resides on essentially “obsolete” storage devices.
Then there comes that horrible day when the computer fails to fire up. Hard drives have a finite life span, all will eventually fail. My daughter and her husband lost a number of priceless family photos when their notebook PC died. There were no copies, no duplicates.
Of course many today share photographs through uploading them to web archives such as “Shutterfly”, “Flickr” or “Photobucket”. But many online photo hosting services have gone bankrupt and disappeared from the web… along with them your collection of family photos. Will these online resources enjoy the same century long services as have the glass plates and photo paper images from the battle of Gettysburg? Will those photos of your child’s 4 year old birthday party survive somewhere over the next 100 years generations yet unborn to admire?
It’s an interesting question to picture.
Photo above: George Washington Cole, my great great grandfather. Died at the Battle of Champion Hill, Mississippi, 1863