Are 99.9% of Your Photographs Just Not Important Enough To Save?
If this was your entire photo collection sitting in this trash can in the photo above, would this make you …
… actually feel relief … or utter panic?
What if I added to this scenario. What if to the best of your knowledge, all of your photos sitting in the trash were already scanned and safely backed up on a couple of your hard drives.
Do you now feel relieved … or still utterly panicked?
From everyone I have talked to about this scenario, it seems safe for me to say that I believe the world is in somewhat of a divide whether it's actually okay to throw away your prints and slides once they have been scanned and digitally preserved.
And for some, hopefully not too many, I am sure they would say it's okay to throw away many if not most photos before they were scanned and preserved.
Yes. You heard me.
Let's Consider My Aunt's Conflict
Not too long ago, I finished up a nice video review of the Logan Slide File 35mm slide box. It's an archival quality metal box that is safe to store your slides in.
It's the first video that not only am I in, but my Dad's making his “SYEL” screen debut as well.
For this reason, I thought I would email a link for the video to my Aunt Karen.
Even though my Uncle has shot thousands of slides through the years and is in the process of scanning them, I really didn't think she would be interested in the subject of the video. I just thought she would enjoy seeing video of her brother and I working on a family photo project together.
About a day or so passed when I got an email back from her. She was very complimentary of my work as you would expect your delightful Aunt to be. (Thanks Aunt Karen!)
But, she added something at the end of her comment that I totally wasn't expecting.
We thought your video was very good. But I have to ask WHY we are storing all the slides???? I thought we were scanning them so we could get rid of some more STUFF!
Well first, I wrote her back and apologized. I told her my intent wasn't to push any kind of “metal archival box” agenda on her. And she told me later she didn't think I was.
Secondly, I have to admit, that's a pretty logical and fair question she asked!
I mean, why should the average person go through this huge job or expense of scanning all their photos, just to have a second set of them?
The Big Reply
So, I knew I had to write my Aunt back. I couldn't leave a monstrosity of a question like this hanging out there — especially when she used like 4 question marks in one sentence.
But, it's funny to me that I had to think about it for a day or two before I could even come up with a complete and possibly persuasive enough answer for her.
“Why should you keep your original prints and negatives?” I kept asking myself.
If the scans aren't of high enough quality to warrant being able to toss the originals, what is the point of even scanning them besides sharing a few of them around with friends and family on social networking sites and email?
I became agitated with myself.
“Shouldn't I just know this off the top of my head!?” I mean I do have this little scanning website here with my name on it somewhere.
I kept thinking, “Why isn't it just a known belief for people that you keep your originals — I mean, they are … they're at least sentimental right? Isn't everyone sentimental????”
Disclaimer: I think we maybe should just go ahead and get this out of the way. If you haven't guessed it already from reading this website, I'm on the side of the fence that can't help but practically gasp when I hear someone talk about throwing their original photos away. Yeah, even the “not so focussed” and “that's my Mom's thumb in the shot” ones.
Over the last several years, I've now heard the logic from enough people from the “other side” that I guess I should at least begin to recognize this as a respectable option.
That being said out loud, I still felt I should send my Aunt Karen any non-sentimental logical reasoning that would at least explain why I personally would never want to toss out my family's original photos.
I'm sure over time, the list will grow longer. But that week — silly, stupid, genius or pathetic — here's what I came up with.
THE 4 REASONS WHY I WILL NEVER THROW OUT MY ORIGINAL PRINTS AND SLIDES
What if I discovered I had made some mistakes scanning some of my photos and wanted to rescan them.
It's like when you write something and go to proofread it for mistakes. No matter how many times you re-read your work, you always seem to miss a couple things.
This has happened to me several times as I've scanned my collection. I realized I had rushed through my workflow too fast that morning and a couple of slides were cropped too much and I was missing information from the original image.
I like the peace of mind knowing I can return to the original if I ever want or need to.
How will I feel when new technology comes out that can scan and extract even more quality and detail from my photos than I was able to the day I scanned them. The day you scan a photo is the day you “lock in” that days' technology.
What if one of my nieces or nephews took an interest in them one day — possible when I am no longer around — and wanted to rescan some of the collection with this new “futuristic” technology?
Storing the originals — especially film negatives — gives you technological opportunities later.
I know I scanned some slides that really shouldn't have been. What I mean is, they were way too dirty or moldy to produce a good scan from. I really should have set them aside and cleaned them with a special chemical first.
So I know I want to go back and re-scan some of them that really mean a lot to me that are in bad shape.
(I went ahead and scanned them, because as some of you already know, my goal right now is to get them digitized as fast as I reasonably can so that my parents can go through them and help me order and label them. Later, I will clean them up and make them look pretty.)
Storing the originals gives you the option to perform temporary scans.
The process of digital preservation hasn't been around that long yet. We are all still learning how to save and archive digital files and have them last theoretically forever.
Are all of us digital junkies really prepared? Because DVD's can rot, hard drives can fail and natural disasters do occur all over the world.
This involves backing up to several hard drives, storing them in more than one place (just in case a natural disaster destroys your home for example), and also looking into backing them up to the “cloud” (internet storage companies that charge a monthly fee).
Even though I am confident I am going to be responsible and look out for my digital files, I love knowing that if something DID go wrong with my failsafes, I have the originals to return to.
But Still — Seriously, What's the Point of Scanning Then!?
All this said, I know… they do take up space!
Most of our lives we're pre-occupied acquiring things, and then the last part of our lives we spend giving away these things.
And I feel like I am already ahead of schedule. I am middle-aged (I had to cough that one up) and already starting to really reduce the amount of things my wife and I have in our house. I am putting work into carefully consolidating down to as little as I can.
But for me, personally, these analog “memories” will probably be the last thing I will pitch — and that will probably be like the ol' saying, “over my dead body!” Someone can bury me literally under my collection. It can be grass, then dirt, then my collection and then me.
Am I really just being overly sentimental to a bunch of old paper and chemicals?
Shortly thereafter, I ran across a couple forum comments on photo.net that smacked me right in the face with this very question.
They were just a couple of thoughts out of many, buried in a discussion about 35mm slides.
Sorry to tell you guys, but 99.9% of your pictures just aren't that important. If you don't throw them out before you die, your wife's next husband will. Including the so-called keepers.
~ Alan Klein
I agree with Alan. Our slides are not important to anyone really other than to ourselves and I think it is a fantasy to assume they need to be treasured like works of art.
~ Robin Smith
I guess it's possible Alan and Robin wrote these words with little thought. They could have been a knee-jerk reaction typed out on their smartphones while they were waiting for their movie to start in a theater. They were just trying to be funny — right?
Or, they could have taken their time and typed out their true and sobering belief in the matter after months of deep-hearted analysis.
Either way, what they said is still truly scary to me.
Are we really lying to ourselves if we think our print and 35mm slide collections will be appreciated generations from now?
When my will is read aloud in front of my surviving family (or is that only done by rich people in the movies?), will any one of my nieces and nephews be upset if I chose them to take over as caretaker of my treasured old photo collection?
If their truth be told, would every one of them actually prefer to be awarded my almost valueless Groo the Wanderer childhood comic book collection instead?
Maybe, sadly it's true.
On the surface, it does appear that our little “future generations” are being groomed to appreciate only digital images — consumed quickly and then clicked out of view.
“Oh look Uncle Curtis — there's a cat doing something funny in this ‘pitcher' !”
“Oh yes. Yeah that's cute.”
So Analog Is Done Then?
I certainly wouldn't say it's done. I'm sure this is a conversation that will continue on for years to come.
But in the meantime, here's something truly interesting I remember stumbling onto earlier this year that should make the answer less obvious for even the cynical. The information passed by me so quickly that it almost didn't register.
But it did.
Jaws the Restoration
I was watching this absolutely fascinating 8-minute documentary showing how technical masters recently restored Steven Spielberg's masterpiece “Jaws” for release on Bluray.
I mean — thank goodness! Right?
Who wants to watch that dirty old version of “Jaws” that's been out on just standard-definition DVD when you could watch an even newer cleaned-up digital version on high-definition Bluray, brought back to life from cleaning up that out of date, clunky original film negative! (Read a little sarcasm there)
What's exciting about this age is we're able to restore these movies—we can bring these classic [Universal Pictures] movies back to life in a way that makes them more vivid than even we remember them when we went to the cinema to see them.
~ Steven Spielberg
Even though I work in the industry, I am still amazed at the level of technology that is constantly flowing from it.
It was easily apparent this movie was going to look and sound utterly fantastic when they are done restoring it. I was all set to buy a copy of it just halfway through watching this video!
Here's is the whole thing if you want to watch it for yourself.
(Problems playing video? Click here)
The Interesting Relevant Part
Here's the part that really caught my attention.
As the documentary is coming to an end, at exactly 6 min 30 seconds in, the music slows and becomes sentimental. We hear angelic voices say the following in order:
The outputs of this project are both film and digital. We are restoring high-resolution digital files as well as recording a new negative.
We do both because digital files, while they are convenient to work with, and they allow us a wide range of options, for archival means, we still want a piece of film to put away.
~ Peter Schade
(Vice Pres. of Content Management and Tech. Services – Universal Studios)
This is our cultural heritage. It's very important to preserve the physical film—the 35mm film and the negative.
~ Steven Spielberg
Film is a known commodity. We can put that on a shelf and store it in the proper conditions and that thing will last 100 years plus.
~ Peter Schade
These “harp strums” were like music to my ears!
All that money was spent to make an almost near-perfect digital version of this feature film, yet they spent even more money to make sure there was yet another (analog) piece of film created to ensure this movie lives on forever.
Well Which is the Right Choice Now?
Well I don't think this says that my thinking is right and anyone who feels they wish to throw out their original prints and negatives after scanning is wrong. Not at all.
But, what this does prove to me is that even the technicians working with the highest levels of technology available, still feel there is reason to doubt that today's level of digitization and digital preservation is “good enough”.
They must believe there are still just too many unanswered “what ifs” to take any chances by removing analog sources from the future equation.
So I hate to tell you, but whether you decide to hold on to your original prints and negatives is still going to have to be a decision only you can make.
And after reading this, you may now feel your whole life's collection isn't even as important as “Jaws” so what's the point of even treating it like it is!!!
And this still doesn't solve the possible problem if our surviving family members end up not giving two feathered hoots about inheriting our old fading collections.
What About Me You Ask?
So maybe you could say I have decided I am going to hold onto my prints and slides — not necessarily for my family — but for me. Yes me! Just having them makes me feel better.
And as for my surviving family?
Well I'm going to continue spending my own free time scanning and restoring all of my family's photographs so that when I possibly have to take this analog collection with me to the grave, I will have a pristine digital copy of it waiting for all of them.
This way, hopefully every once and awhile, when the time is right, my nieces and nephews will be able to click or swipe or whatever their futuristic tablets can do then, through all of these old amazing “story-filled” photographs that meant so much to their loved ones before them… who made their beautiful lives possible.
I really hope you enjoyed this. I would love to know how you feel it.
For example, why do you think people should save or should not save their original photo collections? Please let me know in the comments below.
Also, I've created an anonymous poll I would really appreciate if you would take a few seconds to be a part of. (I'll wash your dog for you!)