Archives of the Born Digital
I made this exposure of my father and my son, Carter, in June of 2004 near Busted Rock in the mountains of Patrick County Virginia. Today I opened this digital file hoping to craft a photograph that would have been unobtainable, by me at least, ten years ago.
I abandoned film in 2003 due to the personal economies of time and money. I did this understanding the shortcomings of my little digital point-and-shoot. Its RAW file-type notwithstanding, I knew that my 5mp images would possess artifacts characterizing a technology that was not yet ready for professional results. I remember thinking that using this consumer digital camera required a hopeful scenario of rapidly evolving post-processing tools like Photoshop to correct for the shortcomings of the camera that I could afford. Similar logic supports those of us who plan to be cryogenically preserved, believing that a medical fix will be ready before our loved ones have died of old age. Surely the digital darkroom will have advanced enough for the remediation of my noisy, fringe-afflicted photographs of 2003. I’ll count this experiment a qualified success but caution against betting on the evolution of tools to provide adequate management of your digital archives.
But assuming continuity of technical support for the digital image did have real risks – especially for professionals and institutions. It was mid 2001 in my career with George Eastman House, that I used the Museum’s first digital SLR, a Kodak DCS 660. It produced a proprietary RAW file of sufficient quality for some of our repro photography and sparked an institutional ambition to develop a proper digital asset management system. But it was soon obvious that Kodak was failing its professional market by not supporting its systems over the long term. Eastman House switched to Canon cameras and lenses, rapidly refining its practices, but had we remained dependent on the Kodak platform, we would have found it difficult if not impossible to convert its RAW files within a few years as the company abandoned its professional markets.