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We should all think in centuries

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posted by Zeb Andrews alias Zeb Andrews on Monday 7th of January 2008 06:45:05 AM

I love and hate this image. I think the image itself is quite splendid. Those falls are just amazing. They have such a medieval or maybe it is primordial, quality to them. I have said before that if there are places of power, temples so to speak, to Nature, Falls Creek Falls in some forgotten day might very well have been such a place. And I can see that in this photo. But the technical limitations of the camera I was shooting with really come back to haunt me. It was an old Nikon D1X, and it was not really meant for high quality landscape photography. Well it was not really meant for high quality anything. It's purpose in life was mostly a bang-around digital slr for photojournalists. An overpriced and underpowered camera that lost a lot of quality that the older professional film bodies achieved but at the same time facilitated the immediate response required by photojournalism. We can say all this in hindsight of course. When the D1 came out, it was top of the line, at least in terms of digital SLRs. And it did have its strengths, but especially compared to digital SLRs these days, it is a pretty worthless camera. What fascinates me though is remembering how fascinated people were by this generation of digital camera. Photographers jumped to buy these and other similar cameras when they hit the market, and this almost blind fervor did not end until the next generation of digital SLR hit and then it was completely replaced again by the third generation. Now digital cameras have gotten very very good indeed. The quality of today's digital cameras is not the issue I am driving at though, rather it was that these early cameras were honestly quite poor in terms of quality, yet they were such a must-have item. The consumer public really was so blind in its desire to jump on the digital photography bandwagon, that it overlooked the very obvious shortcomings of these cameras. I have to be very careful here, because I am not being a traditionalist, I am not bashing digital photography at all. What I am attempting to draw attention to rather is our sometimes raccoon-like trait of being mindlessly drawn to the shiny thing in the corner, seeing only that is shiny and not that it is actually on fire and covered in barbed wire. Not that I think digital photography is a physical hazard to one's health unless you walk over a cliff because you are staring at your LCD screen, but it does have some pitfalls and dangers which are a bit hidden, though they really ought not to be. Some of these shortcomings have been pretty well overcome, such as the quality issue. Gone are the days of the high-end 2 million pixel camera (remember those $400 gimmicks?) and the crummy digital printing. With cameras out now boasting up to 16 megapixels and beyond, it really is amazing the quality of images you can capture with some of these cameras. And while crummy digital printing still does exist, so does very nice, very beautiful digital printing. But I carry on, and if I do not wrap this up shortly, by the time I am finished typing this is going to be overly long. I really posted this image because I just saw an insightful little article in The Oregonian I wanted to share. So I will commence with that. Again, please note, I am not trying to nay say digital photography, that is why I posted a digital image to go with it. I too shoot digitally on occasion. My point here rather is to try to educate, to possibly point out to some who may not realize it, on the dangers inherent in shooting digitally and to hopefully avoid some of the future problems those dangers can cause. I truly worry about the impermanence of the photographic work so many of us are doing. Where are these photos going to be in 20 years? 40? 60? 120? Will we be able to anything with that box of CDs in the attic in 30 years, or even 15 for that matter? Hard drives crash. Pictures just never get printed and eventually just deleted, lost forever. That mundane snapshot of your son when he is five, will he ever be able to appreciate it? There are some real concerns to address, and they do not necessarily lie with changing our technology, but rather in how we use our technology, and that begins with realizing what it can and does not do for us. Studios try to avoid sad ending for stored digital films. The Sunday Oregonian, December 23rd 2007 by Michael Cieply -- New York Times News Service Time was, a movie studio could pack up a picture and all of its assorted bloopers, alternate takes and other odds and ends as soon as the production staff was done with them, and ship them off to the salt mine. Literally. Having figured out that really big money comes from reselling old films - on broadcast television, then cable, videocassettes, DVDs, and so on _ companies like Warner Brothers and Paromount Pictures for decades have been tucking their 35mm film masters and associated source material into archives, some of which are housed in a Kansas salt mine, or in limestone mines in Kansas and Pennsylvania. A picture could sit for many, many years, cool and comfortable, until some entierprising executive decided that the time was ripe for, say, a Wallace Beery special collection timed to a 25th anniversary 3-D rerelease of "Barton Fink," with a hitherto unseen, behind-the-scenes peek at the Coen brothers trying to explain a Hollywood in-joke to John Turturro. It was a file-and-forget system that didn't cost much, and made up for the self-destructive sins of an industry that discarded its earliest works or allowed films on old flammable stock to degrade. (Only half of the feature films shot before 1950 survive.) But then came digital. And suddenly the film industry is wrestling again with the possibility that its most precious assets, the pictures, aren't as durable as they used to be. The problem became public, but just barely, last month, when the science and technology council of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released the results of a yearlong study of digital archiving in the movie business. Titled "The Digital Dilemma," the council's report surfaced just as Hollywood's writers began their walkout. Busy walking, or dodging, the picket lines, industry types largely missed teh report's startling bottom line: To store a digital master record of a movie costs about $12,514 a year, versus the $1,059 it costs to keep a convential film master. Much worse, to keep the enormous swarm of data produced when a picture is "born digital" _ that is, produced using all-electronic processes, rather than relying wholly or partially on film - pushes the cost of preservation to $208,569 a year, vastly higher than the $86 it costs to toss the equivalent camera negatives, audio recordings, on-set photographs and annotated scripts of an all-film production into the cold-storage vault. Back to the future. All of this may seem counterintuitive. After all, digital magic is supposed to make information of all kinds more available. Ubiquity, it turns out, is not the same as permanence. In a telephone interview earlier this month, Milton Shefter, a longtime film preservationist who helped prepare the academy's report, said the problems associated with digital movie storage, if not addressed, could point the industry "back to the early days, when they showed a picture for a week or two, and it was thrown away." Shefter and his associates do not contend that films are actually on the verge of becoming quite that ephemeral. But they do see difficulties and trends that could point many movies or their source material toward "digital extinction" over a relatively short span of years, unless something changes. At present, copies of virtually all studio movies - even those like "Click" or "Miami Vice" that are shot using digital processes - are being stored in film format, protecting the finished products for 100 years or more. For film aficionados, the current practice is already less than perfect. Regardless of how they are shot, most pictures are edited digitally, and then a digital master is transferred to film, which can result in an image of lower quality than a pure film process - and this is what becomes stored for the ages. But over the next couple of decades, archivists reason, the conversion of theaters to digital projection will sharply reduce the overall demand for film, eventually making it a sunset market for the main manufacturers, Kodak, Fujifilm and Agfa. At that point, pure digital storage will become the norm, bringing with it a whole set of problems that never troubled film. Less durable media. To begin with, the hardware and storage media - magnetic tapes, discs, whatever - on which a film is encoded are much less enduring than good old film. If not operated occasionally, a hard drive will freeze up in as little as two years. Similarly, DVDs tend to degrade: according to the report, only half of a collection of discs can be expected to last for 15 years, not a reassuring prospect to those who think about centuries. Digital audiotape, it was discovered, tends to hit a "brick wall" when it degrades. While conventional tape becomes scratchy, the digital variety becomes unreadable. Difficulties of that sort are compounded by constant change in technology. As one generation of digital magic replaces the next, archived materials must be repeatedly "migrated" to the new format, or risk becoming unreadable. All of that makes digital archiving a dynamic rather than static process, and one that costs far more than studios have been accustomed to paying in the past - no small matter, given that movie companies rely on their libraries for about one-third of their $36 billion in annual revenue, according to a recent assessment by the research service Global Media Intelligence. One of the most perplexing aspects of a digital production like "Superman Returns" is that it sometimes generates more storable material than convential film, creating new questions about what to save. For no, studios are saving as much of this digital ephemera as possible, storing it on tapes or drives in vaults not unlike those that house traditional film. But how much of that material will be migrated when technology shifts in seven to 10 years is anyone's guess.



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