In today’s Instant photography there are two different technologies. The old instant film pioneered by Polaroid and now dominated by Fujifilm Instax, and the new digital printer, usually ink based, the later being pushed by the Polaroid brand (as opposed to Polaroid Originals), with Zink that uses thermal printing technology.
From All About Images, Zink Twice about Polaroid (their pun):
Polaroid and Zink have chosen not to provide any stability information on their products. One can only assume that the expected lifetime for this product must be poor, since if it were not, they would have every reason to publicize it.
Lifetime of prints is an important matter. I’m convinced that the majority of the digital photography archives will be lost to obsolete and failing technology, destructive services, etc. and that printing is one of the limited ways to preserve them. But prints have to be long lasting. Photographic paper like the Fujicolor Crystal Archive is rated for 70 years and this is way longer than Zink.
The Elephant in the digital darkroom talks about how Film is coming back to Hollywood:
It’s an inexpensive archiving system, a highly effective means of preserving the motion picture heritage. Archived 35mm film stock remains stable for centuries under proper climactic conditions. With digital, however, the film industry is discovering that its core assets, its digital motion picture masters, aren’t as permanent as the film stock they’ve replaced.
I have always thought the same about still images, that under the guise of looking more convenient, that digital wasn’t as good as an archival medium.
What about the shoe boxes with pictures from your family members?
What about those lost rolls from unknown artists that happen to be an historic treasure depicting everyday life, like for example: Vivian Maier ?
This is the digital conundrum: we shorted the photographic workflow, we make it “easier” for the photographer, we make sharing more pervasive, but we also made the archival life shorter. Between the cloud services that disappear, recordable CD/DVD that disintegrate over the years, the hard drives that crash, the stolen phones, there is a lot of uncertainty whether your photos are safe or not and whether future generation will see them or not.
I wish good luck to the archivists of our future.
CBC report on a Shipwrecked camera found underwater after 2 years with photos intact:
A camera lost in a shipwreck off the west coast of Vancouver Island two years ago is finally to be returned to its owner — with the memory card and its images intact.
The camera, we can’t really say it survive, but the SD card still in working order 2 years later. Kudos to the researchers for locating the pictures owner, this is a kind gesture.
This show how robust media has become. Try this with a tape, with film, etc. Unlikely you’d be able to salvage them. On the other hand this doesn’t really mean we’ll be able to read them in 50 years, the problem being to actually access the media.
via m43 Rumors
Wired has an article on The Hackers Who Recovered NASA’s Lost Lunar Photos :
[…] After the low-fi printing, the tapes were shoved into boxes and forgotten.
They changed hands several times over the years, almost getting tossed out before landing in storage in Moorpark, California. Several abortive attempts were made to recover data from the tapes, which were well kept, […]
Read it all, the effort is amazing. It doesn’t matter how you keep the medium, if you can re-read it or decode it, it is useless.
This is a shape of things to come. What will happen to all of those digital archives? These CD or DVD that will be unreadable because we no longer have the drives, or just decayed, these hard drives with obsolete connectors, which, if they ever start, might still hard to use in a few decades. And then what do we do with these RAW files that the camera vendor refuse to document?
These are all the questions we should remember to ask. The next Vivian Maier might never happen in the era of digital as we might unable to recover the content of the shoe box. Not everybody will have the skills of that team that recovered the NASA photos.