The Digital Equivalent of Finding Old Rolls of Film is Reviewing Old Hard Drives (Sort of)

This is a piece I’ve been putting off – writing, rewriting, and reformatting in my head for the past year. Why? Well, it’s a personal story. I needed to grow more as a photographer and person to really tell it. I wanted to relate the feeling I’ve got about an issue that’s still plaguing memory keepers everywhere: preservation. Years ago, we’d print all our photos and file them away in albums. Or, we’d file our negatives away similarly. That doesn’t happen any more. We simply upload to a web service and hope it stays. And as time goes on, we realize we’ll probably lose a whole lot of images we forgot about.

While cleaning out my office closet, I found a camera bag that I’d had since starting the Phoblographer while living in my mother’s old house. In that bag was a single roll of film. For some odd reason, I loved collecting these. I found them to be a time capsule–a number of split seconds of human life put into a little canister. I still do this; I’ll sometimes shoot rolls of film and then choose to develop them a year or more later, simply to be surprised by life and to feel those memories all over again. As I look at the images, I can recall all the things I was going through mentally – where I was in life, and what I was feeling when I snapped the photo. A person’s habits can be traced in their photos and their photo taking patterns. After talking to photographer after photographer, I’ve found this to be more and more true.

So what was on this roll? They were photos of family members. The roll was shot when I was maybe 16 or 17 years old and there are family photos of my sister, cousins, aunts, grandfather, grandmother, my mom, and great aunts and uncles. The images were intentionally taken family style as a documenting process. We knew that the older folks would pass eventually and so we wanted photos of all of us together one last time. Lots of my mother’s family is in Canada and so, when we drove up from NYC, it was a rare occasion for a lot of us to be in the same room, let alone the same house. When I was 16, I was going through some really tough times. Besides all the aches of High School, I constantly felt suppressed in various aspects of life. It got me into writing–which obviously stuck with me.

As I went through this roll and looked at the scans Lomography graciously provided to me, I eventually went back to my desk and looked at the LaCie Hard drive there that I’ve been using for longer than a year. It’s lasted me a while but I know that one day I’m going to need to replace the drive. Lots of ports are being updated over and over again and I know that eventually Thunderbolt probably won’t be here any longer. Eventually, without converters, these drives will become completely obsolete. But in the meantime, they’re the record keepers. They hold all the memories we’ve shot before. I’ve got tons of them right by me in my desk drawer that I no longer use or that don’t use formats that are alive anymore. Remember FireWire?

Go through a hard drive and you’ll find lots of old memories, old shoots, etc. But again, they’ll eventually be gone and no longer supported. With film that didn’t happen–except that a lot of scanners and the software aren’t modernizing much due to a lack of funding. And I get that. But then there’s the idea that we still need to find a way to keep our memories intact. Hard drives help, but they don’t have the longevity a lot of people feel film has.

So what do we do?