Friday, 16 September 2016

No more scans

When do you stop trying to preserve the past?

I've been scanning my old photos for years now. The historian in me says, 'Scan these shots, as many as you reasonably can, and preserve them in digital form for the future. One day somebody (as yet unborn) will thank you from the bottom of their heart for doing this work.'

But there is so much to scan! And these are the best shots, with the dross already discarded. Even so, the quantity is overwhelming. All of them are trapped on old-fashioned film media, either transparencies (1965 to 1989) or prints (1989 to 2000). (After May 2000 everything was taken with a digital camera)

Ideally I would like to scan every shot that isn't already in digital form. But the scanning work involved would be huge. I took about 5,000 transparencies over the years, and still have some 2,500 left, of which only 200 or so have been scanned and converted into digital photos. I took about 23,400 pictures on print film, and still have 15,000 or so left, of which perhaps 3,000 - no more - have been scanned.

If we lump all the remaining unscanned shots together, whether slides or prints, we can say that there are - broadly speaking - 14,000 left to scan. Each one needs five minutes to process, including enhancement and captioning. That's 70,000 minutes for the entire job, or 1,167 hours. Meaning that if I throw ten hours a week at it, the job would still take me 116 weeks.

That's far too much time to spend on this kind of thing! I've lots of other stuff I need to get on with.

I could (and would) be ruthless, only scanning the cream of the crop. Here for instance was a box of prints - people shots - all ready to go this very morning. I hadn't selected many to scan, but even so this in itself represented a day's work:

And once done, there would still be all these other boxes to do:

Suddenly I felt that all this scanning just wasn't a good use of my time. Or anyone's time.

I put it all back up in the attic. Where of course it may now remain, unscanned, never to become part of my vast Digital Photo Archive.

Does this matter?

It's good to have an easily-found record of what people and events really looked like, because one's natural memory is untrustworthy. But if nothing in these old photos is affecting the present time, then it's arguable that no harm will be done by tossing the whole lot in the bin.

I can't bring myself to do that, not yet anyway, but I do recognise that at some point I may be compelled to jettison all my boxes of prints and transparencies, whether scanned or not. What will happen, for instance, when I need to clear my attic in order to install modern insulation?

In a strange way, the idea of throwing all those pictures away has its attractions. I would be free of an immense obligation to do something with them. I wouldn't need to find storage space for them. And I do in fact already have digital copies of all the key personal and family photographs. These are quite enough in themselves to conjure up the decades before I was born, and what has happened since. So do I really need the rest?

I'm sure there are literally hundreds of shots, not yet scanned, that are very interesting and worth preserving. But 'very interesting' is not the same thing as 'absolutely essential'.

Well, I won't do anything drastic, not yet, but I think the time has now come to stop resurrecting the past and to concentrate effort and full attention on what is happening now.

'Now' and 'the future' always trump the past.

1 comment:

  1. Thankfully I never got started with scanning. In my innocence I assumed that once you had found a suitable setting they would all come out in an expected and predictable way, just keep feeding in the transparencies and hey presto. Seemed to be far more troublesome so I never handed over my cash and like you have thousands of transparencies covering decades. Even the projector gave up in disgust when digital came along.

    What to do with our work when there is no obvious person to hand them it to. I used to edit mine down to finally exhibit in galleries but even that outlet has become harder to find.

    I seem to have come full circle back to just making photographs for my own pleasure. Ironically the things dreamed about many decades ago, built in light meters, fast auto focusing and zoom lenses all seem like an intrusion. I have gone back to manual focus fixed focal length lenses to concentrate my vision, slower and fewer is my new motto.

    In the end, our photos are just solid memories which may vanish along with us when our time is up. Others spend similar amounts on their hobbies with even less to show for it so I do not feel that my money has been wasted, it has until recently usually more than covered it's costs...

    One big regret is that the saying " once on the internet, there forever" does not seem to be holding true. There does not seem like an obvious route to ensuring an online presence short of having an artistic executor to ensure movement of files as each and every change of hosting service or file format is taken care of...


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