May 15, 2010

How long will those photos last? One year or a 100?

Have you ever seen photos from the eighteen hundreds in museums and thought, those are really old photos? Some of them look like they may be faded and some of them look like they may be good as new. The point is there are still good images on paper produced over 150 years ago that were produced by a photographic process. How long will photos produced today last? Some of us are still making images by a silver process that has a long history of recorded longevity and others of us are now making images using ink. The ink prints today are the new kid on the block and really the ones in question. If you are printing your own photos and they were going to fade next year to something that people viewing them would say “what happened to this photo?” would you still print it? So what about 2 years or 5 years? I would like to think that my images would last forever but since almost nothing lasts forever there must be a common ground that is reasonably acceptable to most reasonable people. Just for discussion lets pick 100 years of print life. I may be happy with that if my print was on display on a wall but how about if it is kept in a dark place? The questions go on and on as for what is acceptable and reasonable for a photograph to last. Who knows? How do we measure? Who do we trust for the answers ? Epson? HP? Kodak? Do they have a biased view of the results? I bring up this topic because for some photographers it is an important topic to consider when selling an image to be displayed. For those of you interested in this topic there is a new source available for determining image life that I would like you to visit and if interested support. Aardenburg Imaging & Archives is a photo testing site that has some very interesting data on just how long a print should last under many different conditions. At the very least click on the link and take a look at the site. Mark McCormick-Goodhart is the man in charge of this project and needs some additional support to continue his work. I have no connection with Mark of any kind other than I find his work relevant and necessary to photographers everywhere. If you have any thoughts on this topic let me know.

Best wishes, Gary

Comments (2)

  1. July 5, 2011
    Nick Webb said...

    Thanks for this, Gary, it’s really hard to find a ballpark number on how long developed photos last by looking online. Your post was the first to answer it… seems many people are much more worried about how long photos will last on CDs/DVDs, etc. than old prints.

    In some ways I find old developed photographs superior to digital photos. Sure digital photos will stay 100% true to their original quality if they are stored properly. If they are stored improperly, or a mistake is made somewhere in the years, it’s gone forever. It used to be easier: just put them in a box and keep them sheltered from light, and they last at least 100 years. I think digital has some big shoes to fill.

    Nick

  2. August 21, 2011
    Gary Wagner said...

    Nick,
    Yes it is hard to determine how long photos will last. It clearly depends on the process used to make the image. You can find prints made in the mid 1800 in most museums and they look good for their age. I have prints from my parents that were made in the 1920 that are in excellent condition. It would seem 100 years should be a ball park starting number for how long we want a print to last. Do we think that digital files will be readable in 100 years? Do I really think that my grandchildren will be looking at my hard drive or some other media 100 years and that it will still be viewable? I still think that the photo album or the shoebox is the best bet for long term photo storage. I am sure this will change in the future as the next generation finds out they have no photos to share with their children and come up with new ways to share digital images. But for now…
    Gary

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