Philosophy & Reflections

Scan and Destroy – My blasphemous quest to be free of my negatives – By Max Cooper

December 20, 2022

The issue of SHOTS magazine current at the time of this writing contains images central to my thesis: Recovered slides from my grandfather’s collection. On the off-chance you missed it, I’ll reproduce them below.

These were shot in the late 1940s using my grandfather’s Argus C3, the original 35mm compact, so it was a stretch convincing the editors of SHOTS that I, born in the 1980s, am “the creator of these original photographs,” as the submission form requires you to attest. I did indeed check the attesting box, even though I’m clearly not the creator of the images as they were originally intended. But I wrote a little note to the editors–we know each other well because they reject me almost every quarter–arguing that the images as they exist today are actually the creation of decades of improper storage, in which I certainly had a hand.

“My belief,” I wrote, drawing from my years in art school, where they train you to bullshit like this when your case isn’t very strong, “is that the dramatic fungal etching is as much a creator of these images as my grandfather or I have been.”

Setting aside the fact that an indy photo rag probably isn’t concerned with being sued by my long-dead grandfather, I like to think I argued a cogent philosophical point that the editors discussed in the editor’s lounge at the end of the day: The idea that an image can be so eroded by time that it becomes more a product of our apathy and disuse than of its creator’s vision and skill. Isn’t that fascinating?

No. It’s not. I’d rather just have some nice pictures of my loved ones.

The Neo-Analogger

I’m not a therapist, but I am a photographer who’s seen enough therapists to know that photographers are a therapist’s job security. Every last one of us is a raging narcissist. Our entire ethos runs counter to the way of the universe: We are driven solely by a yearning ache for permanence manifested in reductive visual terms. Personally offended by ephemerality, we combat it by hoarding images. To hold on to the nuanced depth of life, we record declarative evidence of what one-fifth of our senses experience in any irretrievable moment.

Who are we to blunt time’s arrow? Photographers, that’s who. Not only are our eyes trained to acutely witness the viscera, our skills are honed to capture it. And, most importantly: We have purchased the correct equipment with which to capture it.

This last part is our undoing. My grandfather scraped by with his Argus C3, but us? No my friends, our vision is worth so much more. Many megapixels more, usually captured in the deepest bit-depths of raw sensor information after that sensor has been exposed using an automatic calculus literally based on man’s total knowledge of photography thus far. And the LENSES! Perfectly formed glass sculpted by deep-learning computer models. Eff-one-two! Why, that Argus didn’t even have ONE megapixel, and have you seen its awful bokeh? I guess my grandfather didn’t really love his family.

But we all see the flaws in this logic. Good photography is about communication, not technical perfection.

Fortunately for culture, a new type of photographer has lately arisen, one who rejects the hubris of mainstream photography. How do we know? Because he’ll tell you. I’m talking, of course, about the Neo-Analog Photographer. And I can speak with authority, because I am one.

No tech-driven sensor slapper, the Neo-Analogger doesn’t chase the latest and greatest. Did you know that sharpness is a bourgeois concept? He knows. He forges the future as a return to the past. And the big camera manufacturers don’t have him in their pockets. By the way, did you hear Leica re-released the M6? Or you could just get one on eBay. Mint condition “for its age!” EXC+++++!

It’s not about the money. It’s about timelessness: Digital cameras obsolete (that’s a verb now) after every blog post on DPreview, but Neo-Analoggers buy cameras “for life,” to “support film,” and when our brief flash is fading and our arthritic fingers become too old to participate in the joy of fine mechanical engineering, these heirlooms will be “passed on to our children.”

You know, like my grandfather’s slides.

The Tell-Tale Negatives

Let’s hope our cameras appreciate, because any shred of our childrens’ inheritance we save by eschewing Big Digital is frittered away feeding our cameras film. And then developing it. And then scanning it. And then–here’s the crux–storing it for posterity.

It’s the posterity that gets you. It’s no coincidence that “posterior” is a colloquialism for “your ass,” because that’s basically where we put things when we save them for posterity. But in my case, I stored my negatives behind the fridge.

Before I was a Neo-Analogger, I was just an Analogger, or, as we called ourselves in those days, a photographer. In the early years my negatives–thousands and thousands of them–lived in a drawer. When they outgrew the drawer, they got their own plastic bin. Over the years, the bin has been upgraded. It has occupied several stations, including under the bed, the top shelf of the closet, and a brief stint in the attic. At one point I took all the binders out of the bin and filled the bottom two drawers of my dresser. But then I had nowhere to put my laundry, so it heaped on the floor as a habitat for mice.

And that’s just the “serious” monochrome work. The C41 negatives were improperly stored in their original drugstore envelopes in a shoe box. And then two shoe boxes. And then . . .

And then one day while repairing the refrigerator that, like my grandfather’s slides, had reached a new form through apathy and disuse, I realized there was a good six square feet of space behind it in the, uh, fridge hole. I don’t know what this space originally was, but it was empty now, and I hastily shoved in my bins and shoeboxes and huffed and puffed until the fridge was back in place. My life’s work was safe, and when I needed my negatives–when the day came that I remembered a real Pulitzer-winner in there and, with all the free space in my house, built a darkroom to print it–they would be only a fridge away.

That was twelve years ago.

And they would still be in the fridge hole had it not been for the COVID lockdowns. With nowhere to store our newly-hoarded toilet paper dry goods and medical supplies, I was forced to exhume my negatives to make room. As the clock slowly marked the creeping seconds of quarantine, the bins and shoeboxes towered in the middle of my office. Like a Poe-esque addition to all the other horrors of the time, my past had literally become a presence in the room, watching over my shoulder as I browsed r/analog.

And what do Poe’s characters do when the unemtombed past comes a-haunting? They try their best to kill it.

Scan and Destroy

With the enthusiasm that can only be inspired by a quarantine project, I set about my gruesome task. But, observing the primary rule of Neo-Analogism, I never do anything without first announcing it on social media. The idea was simple: I would make a final, high-quality scan of each negative, and then destroy it. I accompanied this announcement with a picture of my negatives in the trash.

The reaction was immediate and frothy. Scores of other Neo-Analoggers who had never once commented on my photos were now adamant that I preserve their truest form. Photographers I’d never heard of sent me emails offering to store my negatives at their own expense until the day I came to my senses and begged for their return. A thousand hipsters took a break from proclaiming that analog photography is “all about the process” and suddenly became very offended that I might bin the product.

As an overweight middle-aged man, I don’t often see rewards from attention-seeking behavior. Invigorated, I doubled down: Not only would I destroy the negatives, I would save the scans… as JPEGs! Both of my Instagram followers lost their beanie-clad minds.

But as I patted myself on the back for stirring the pot, I was left with the question. The negative is sacrosanct. It is, as Ansel Adams said, the score–virgin imagery, unsullied by digitization or enlargement; the archival, unequivocal, unadulterated record of light that passed through our lens at a specific moment in our lives. Was I actually going to destroy them?

Well, no, but not for lack of trying. It’s been two years, and I’ve made it through approximately 10% of my negatives. Not to mention my father’s and grandfather’s film. Being a self-employed artist, and, it follows, irretrievably broke, I promise my siblings each Christmas that in lieu of actual gifts I will finish our family archive. I’m so excited about the task that I plan to start as soon as I finish this article, which I’ve also been working on for two years.

But the fact that I haven’t completed my destruction isn’t an argument against it. Actually, the monumental weight of this task is the biggest argument in its support.

The What-ifs

Neo-Analog brethren, lean close and I will whisper the truth: The film is not the photograph. It is a byproduct. And elevating a byproduct to the same status as the art itself is detrimental to the art.

Assuming that your digitizing is of excellent quality and your data management is secure, clinging to negatives has the same effect on our photographic souls as clinging to the empty canisters and plastic wrappers our film arrived in. The negative becomes an idol, stored away in the holiest of holies, holding us in its sway but only accessible through arcane rituals. At best this worship is a waste of energy and at worst it’s obsessive hoarding–a grasp for permanence that paralyzes inspiration. Like any other vessel that carries your art, you should honor your negatives… and then let them go.

I can hear you now: But Max, what if–? What if you want to print these images? What if technology improves and you could get more from a future scan? What if technology fails and you lose them altogether? What if!

Let’s get back into therapy: “What if” questions are always raised by anxiety, something in no short supply among people who have sworn a quest against entropy itself. In the past you may have had a point, but today the negative is now far from the best answer to these questions:

What if you want to print your negatives? Easy: You don’t. If you did, you already would have. Setting aside the vanishingly small percentage of Neo-Analoggers who work exclusively in the darkroom, we’re all just cosplaying real analog photographers, who, in these latter days, are either insufferable luddites or artists of such importance that they surely don’t care what I think. And many of those artists destroy their negatives after printing limited editions. For every other instance, just get over yourself and print the scans digitally like a normal person.

What if improved technology can produce a better scan in the future? Well, I’m sure it can. But exactly which improvements are you waiting for? Given my assumption above that your digitizing is of the utmost quality, are you seriously arguing that your photography is so vibrant and organic that it cannot be captured by today’s technology? The vast majority of the most important photographs in the last twenty years are sourced from no negative at all, and when analog photographers as talented and varied as Clyde Butcher and Ralph Gibson have embraced digital workflows, it’s safe to say the technology itself is not the limiting factor for the rest of us.

What if technology fails? It’s true that electronic data failure happens, and that’s why my second stipulation above is secure data management. Nevertheless, governments, financial systems and universities, whose data is all vastly more voluminous and complex than any photographer’s archive, store it electronically. Best practices can be followed and your images can be kept secure.

It is here that the argument plumbs the deepest trenches of our anxiety. Yes, you may say, data can be maintained, but what if–there it is again–there is some unforeseen catastrophe? A nuclear strike, an EMP weapon, or a Carrington-level solar event? Something that disrupts the electric grid so thoroughly that our images are not recoverable?

Well, in that case, the loss of your scans will be the least of your worries. And what if you had kept your negatives? The markets are erased, planes are falling from the sky and medical care has regressed to leeching, but you’re safe at home viewing your Tri-X with a loupe and candlelight?

The converse of this argument, often ignored, is that analog data is far less durable–and that’s why I’m writing this to begin with. It need not be something as dramatic as flood or fire or theft. Film is archival only if it has been properly processed and immaculately stored, and mistakes in these practices are not immediately evident. And that’s why, instead of invaluable pictures of my ancestors, I have fungal etchings fit for artsy photo magazines.

The Bequeathing

The most misplaced of the admonishments I received when I set about scanning and destroying were those from photographers who warned that someday my son would wish I had preserved my film.

I appreciate the sentiment, but the idea that we are “gifting” our negatives to our heirs is so absurd it can only be explained as narcissistic delusion. My kid wouldn’t look away from his iPad if he were swarmed by bees, but I plan to bequeath him a hundred thousand tiny analog pictures that can only be viewed with equipment not produced in decades? Who the hell do I think I am?

Even the most devoted family historians will be grateful for their forebears’ images, but not their film. I am living proof: The third in a paternal line of historians, journalists and photographers, I love old film and cameras and dusty relics. I am a case study in exactly the kind of obsessive nerd who should be enthralled with a trove of film. And what have I done with it? Allowed it to deteriorate for another two years, because I have work to do and a kid to raise. It’s not a gift. It’s a burden.

[Above: My father as a young man, with two unknown family members, photographed by my grandfather. Below: My father as an old man, photographed by me.]

Compounding this burden is the fact I have no idea which images are important, and no way to really see them until they are already scanned. Most vexing, neither my grandfather nor my father left notes. Sometimes slide mounts have a scribbled date. But the weight of grief and family history prohibits any callous disregard. Sure, these pictures of random flowers look like something my dad would have shot just to finish a roll . . . but what if they were prize-winning flowers my grandmother planted? I’ll never know. Better scan them anyway. And in all that work, the real message of what he was trying to capture is diluted. And if the work takes long enough–if more fungus grows, or if the house burns down, or if I am not able to finish the project–the message is lost altogether.

Knowing your audience

When it really comes down to it, in spite of our aspirations both higher and lower, all photographers are journalists. And photojournalists have always had to contend with the terms of their images’ presentation being dictated by the viewer, instead of the creator. Newspapers were, after all, printed on newspaper. And any journalist will tell you that your audience’s attention is never a guarantee. If you want your work to be seen, you offer it in the simplest, most accessible way.

If I ever finish this project, I will have an electronic archive that is comprehensively organized, as lightweight as possible, and above all easy to access. I want my heirs to be able to scroll through my work on their phones or tablets or whatever future dystopian device is implanted in their optic nerve, because that would mean they can look at my photos while going about their lives.

While it is inevitable, I hope that time is far in the future. For now, letting go of my negatives–when I finally do–will mean no longer thinking of my old work as an unfinished product. I aim to work in the present, without wondering what images might wait unscanned in the past.

And the best part of all this is discovering images that I have never seen before, except perhaps on a contact sheet. Because it was so laborious, the darkroom forced us to prioritize the images we thought were the best at the time. I printed my finest art on fiber paper and hung it on a wall. But now I’m discovering the images between the art–the shots of my friends and family, so young, or simply alive. I have exhumed them from the fridge hole, and I intend to dig until all the treasure is found.

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29 Comments

  • Reply
    Jeff
    December 20, 2022 at 11:02 am

    Bravo Max! You are escaping the trap many (most?) photographers fall into. You start out loving the fun of capturing a moment of life and you end up with closets full of idols to worship! I shoot film because the limitations and randomness add to the fun. But none of my images are priceless works of art. They bring a bit of joy to my life and then I move on. And you are correct – the images that move me get printed and hung on my wall.

  • Reply
    Doug
    December 20, 2022 at 1:35 pm

    “I will have an electronic archive that is comprehensively organized, as lightweight as possible, and above all easy to access.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_obsolescence

    “Digital obsolescence is the risk of data loss because of inabilities to access digital assets, due to the hardware or software required for information retrieval being repeatedly replaced by newer devices and systems, resulting in increasingly incompatible formats.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      December 20, 2022 at 2:03 pm

      I’ve never been able to get my head around why people think that caring for data is necessarily any harder than caring for physical negs. Digital obsolescence isn’t something that just happens in the blink of an eye.

    • Reply
      Max Cooper
      December 20, 2022 at 2:53 pm

      Gotta agree with Hamish here . . . I’ve just opened a case full of ferrotypes and albumen prints from the mid-1800s and they are disintegrating. And they were stored as correctly as they could have been in the American south (very hot and humid and these images pre-date air conditioning by 100 years). I’m sure modern silver emulsions would fare better, but compared to the effortless ability to copy and convert digital files and formats? No contest unless they’re in the Smithsonian.

  • Reply
    brian m cox
    December 20, 2022 at 1:58 pm

    Great article. It’s been a while since I have thought this hard at 8:30 on a Tuesday morning. As another 80’s child I started shooting film in the early 2000’s and amassed a small refrigerator size cabinet full of negatives that still live in my basement. After a 12 year absence from film I’ve started shooting film again and negative sleeves have been showing up weekly ever since. I honestly haven’t put much thought into that cabinet full of negatives or what I’m going to do with my recent ones. I haven’t come to any conclusions yet but your article sparked a lot of questions that I didn’t know I had. I’ve also been scanning old 120 negatives taken by my grandparents. Many of the photographs contain people I and my parents do not know yet for some reason I can’t bring myself to throw them away. We all have a our time in this world and after 2 or 3 generations most of us will be forgotten just like my box of old negatives. Much like walking through a graveyard I assume anyone born before a certain year is no longer known or recognized yet we memorialize them a permanent stone marker that will outlast any memory we had of that person. I have been treating my negatives the same way and though rationally I know whatever image they contain will be forgotten with time I still can’t seem to throw them away.

  • Reply
    Jan
    December 20, 2022 at 3:28 pm

    I don`t want to criticise your approach (whatever works for you), but I still don`t a see a convincing reason to throw away the negatives. Not because I have big concerns about data security or the readability of image formats in the future. No, just because it just is so easy, cheap and doesn`t take up much space at all to archive your negatives. All my negatives I ever shot (about 20 years of analog photography) fit into 4 archival boxes. Archival sheets from glassine paper are cheap and protect the negatives from dust and everything else – just store them in a dry place. I think the biggest reason to keep the negatives is that I can always rescan them with better equipment, if I should need a better image quality for bigger prints or a book. My scanning equipment isn`t the best (no affordable digitizing solution is really good, let`s be honest), so this makes sense for me.

  • Reply
    JK Lockwood
    December 20, 2022 at 3:44 pm

    What a delightful read. Clearly written by an artist and wordsmith. The narcissism point is well, on point. Indeed, nobody cares about our images, much less our ancestors. My thoughts? Become a ruthless editor. Be decisive. Jettison those negatives. Also, if one would like to avoid all this angst, do what I do. Proudly wear your well-brassed Leica M6 (classic of course) , as the man-jewlery that it is. Film BTW is wholly unnecessary to the experience and counter to today’s minimalist lifestyle. Just occasionally snap the Dutch-angled random image to let those around you know that you are a serious image maker.

  • Reply
    Mark O'Brien
    December 20, 2022 at 4:23 pm

    Brett Weston burned all of negatives before he died – he didn’t want his work to be posthumously redone like his brother Cole was doing for their dad’s. So there’s that aspect. I make no assumptions that the 12+ linear feet of binders full of negatives will be of interest to anyone except my daughter after I pass away, but having access to them for me now, is the whole point, as I am always coming up with projects. I was a museum professional for 37 years, and in the last decade or so of work, digitizing all the ephemera, specimens, and images were part of what I did. We never threw away the negatives, slides, or prints, because as things progressed, equipment and technology improved, and things got redone with better technology. But that’s at a museum, for scientific research. I do find that for my own work, I can go to a binder and look through the negatives pretty quickly, but looking for a file on my hard drives takes me longer. If I can find them – as it was not until the past 5 years where everything is scanned in in a logical and consistent manner. What you said about finding gems is correct – in the old days, there was no way I was going to prints all those negatives – now, as I scanned in all the rolls from a 2003 trip to the SW, I find that there really are a lot of excellent images, as I see things with a more nuanced eye. Since we live not far from each other, we should have a good conversation over a beverage or two about your well-written post.

  • Reply
    Kevin
    December 20, 2022 at 5:29 pm

    Fun read! My siblings and I got through a multiyear (6 I think) project to digitize my parents photo collection and I finished the digital darkroom tweaks during covid. A great exercise for any photographer I would say. It’s a huge endeavour that left me damaged to where I get dizzy and chills when I see a box or drawer full of film that haven’t been enjoyed in years. I can understand keeping slides as they are enjoyable on a light table without a loop (especially larger formats). My collection of keepers is one envelope that doesn’t even bulge.

    Keeping all my negs (particularly color) make very little sense to me; paranoia as you say. Keeping the negs for keepers is tolerable but it would easily fit in one envelope. I had some of dad’s Kodachromes digitally printed and mounted at my local drug store and they look great; different from analog but great.

    I think anyone who hoards their negs are going to get what most of my cousins are doing with their parents collection: getting someone to scan the ones they remember and after 2-10 attempts at sorting it out throw it away because they don’t want to leave the mess to their kids.

  • Reply
    davesurrey
    December 20, 2022 at 5:45 pm

    @Max,
    One of the best, most interesting and entertaining articles I’ve read on here for a long time. Thank you.

    @Doug,
    I love music but a few years ago I realised my collection was scattered on vinyl, Philips cassettes, DAT, Mini-Discs and CDs. It took up space and I also needed the hardware to play all of it. It now all resides on my music server where I can search by artist/album/whatever and listen to it in different rooms around the house. And it’s all backed up in case of disasters.

    Similarly I had negatives, slides, prints in boxes, all of it stored away and hardy ever opened. So I digitised the lot. Now they are on my server and I can see them at the touch of a button or copy them to friends and relatives. Again all backed up. What’s there not to like?
    The fact that I no longer have my vinyl or cassettes doesn’t cause me any issues and nor does the loss of the negatives and slides.

  • Reply
    Ted Ostrowski
    December 20, 2022 at 6:53 pm

    Great article. Amusing, honest and provocative. At times it reads like thesis that should be nailed to the doors of Ilford. I see your reasoning and respect it. I being in my 60’s and having worked as a photographer since the mid 90’s have by the necessity of the technology of the time a shitload of negatives and slides. Many have been scanned. Its difficult to explain but holding those negatives, film which was at the geographic location when exposed gives me a warm fuzzy feeling all over. An organic record that meta data cannot emulate. Call it nostalgia call it early onset of dimensia call it what you may but do call me a hipster. Anthony Bourdain and I have similar views on hipsters. I digress. Digital photography is the best thing that ever happened to photography but the history indicates that one process seems to always replace another. Wet plate is probably practised more now than it was in the 1860’s. The beautiful thing about photography is that there is a seat at the table for everyone and your views are valid as misguided as they may be. Just kidding. Its writing like this that enriches the dialogue. Cheers 🍻

  • Reply
    Art Meripol
    December 20, 2022 at 8:37 pm

    I have piles of old family photos and many negatives of long-forgotten formats. I’ve scanned them all but not trashed the originals….yet. I worked as a travel shooter for a magazine for almost 25 years, the first 18 shooting chromes. A few years ago the magazine contacted me and wanted to know if I’d like my old chromes. I said sure and ended up with some 12large boxes of slides in sheets. Though hardly more than a dent in what I produced over the years it was still nice to get them. But I didn’t want to ‘store’ them. Over a couple years I went through and scanned whatever I felt worth keeping and then tossed them. Box after box slowly shrank and one day they were all gone. Never have looked back, never felt it was wrong not to keep the chromes.

  • Reply
    Röd White
    December 21, 2022 at 10:02 am

    A really interesting interesting read and very pertinent for me. I recently collected a crate from my mum’s house containing thousands of slides, prints and negatives. Most are mixed up and in no particular order, some are marked up, many are usable, some are not. As the photographer of the family, I’ve taken on the project of curating a family book or two to be enjoyed mostly by my sister and I. With my father passed and my mother with profound dementia, there are no other living members of my family behind me to take any interest in this project. My son might take an interest but I suspect only briefly and only if nicely curated in an easy to pick up book.Well that’s just given the project more impetus. Maybe that’s the way forward, make the memories more accessible for future generations to enjoy with as minimal effort as possible.

    Food for thought indeed, thank you for taking the time to write such a thought provoking article.

    • Reply
      Max Cooper
      December 21, 2022 at 2:16 pm

      If I may offer some advice: Be super organized and set an end goal/exit strategy. In my experience family history projects are so full of rabbit holes that it can be very hard to stop researching, and it will take over your life.

  • Reply
    Jay Dann Walker
    December 22, 2022 at 12:00 am

    Hm. I could have written this, albeit not as good as you did, Max. Your so-well articulated thoughts sum up mine, quite almost as if our brains were hot-wired together. As a well-past 70 photographer with six decades of (very) active photographer under my belt, I also have boxes and boxes of negatives and slides – a quick mental-multiplication has estimated my hoard at well over 100,000 images, even leaving out the surely more than that I’ve taken with my digital Nikons and Fujis.

    Some years ago, maybe in the throes of just-post retirement PTSD attack, I too quite seriously considered destroying most of the hoard of really old negatives I have so lovingly hung on to over the past half century, including three major overseas moves involving near-total downsizing and new starts in almost everything, as well as so many more regional and local moves to new digs. Somehow my stash of images made it safely from North America to southeast Asia to Australia without any major crises and hardly any deterioration, not even in my ancient Agfachromes (tho’ sadly most of my Ektachrome and the ancient Fujicolor did not fare quite so well and some age-related fading is now appearing) which I mostly had processed in a color lab in Bangkok, quite expecting them to have faded beyond recognition in a handful of years. Not so. Only the hundred or so Afga slide rolls I unwisely had processed in a Indonesian Chinese (supposedly) prolog in Surabaya in the late ’90s have now all but vanished from my vision. I had to put in a couple of really hard years from 2012 to save as many as I could, scanned digitally. Here I quite agree with Hamish that with a well-thought out plan, digital archives can be safely maintained and kept for decades. Whether or not those dici-images will last into the 22nd century – and come to think of it, will we as a global race? The jury is really out on that one and I happen to think it will be a good thing that I probably won’t be around after say 2030 to see the massive deterioration in our quality of life, but enough said about this – remains a moot point. I hope they will. Even mine, as inconsequential as most of them may be. I mean, cat portraits, anyone? I have thousands!

    Now, I could go on about this for reams of writing, but let’s move on. My family images were given the first treatment and even my childhood portraits (dating back to 1952 and printed on the infamous old Kodak Ektacolor paper, it seems legendary for its quick fading, but no, mine as as good as they were the day they were enlarged). I have them all in archival paper with paper covers in a hideously expensive acid-free albums, for future generation of my relations to view (or more likely ignore).

    My thousands of cat shots were then sorted, keywords, scanned and mostly cut up. I mean, who will want to see candids of sleeping felines in the next century? Not even now – and not even me. But the memories endure.

    From 1970 until the sad proliferation of online digicrap images flooded the world, I shot stock, and did well both artistically and financially from this. I have portfolios of Bali taken in 1970, 1972, 1974 and 1975, mostly on Tri-X with believe it or not, a Kodak Retina, published in many Europe and North America. Try giving away any image however good of Bali in the day and age, and you’ll get my point. Ditto Europe in the ’70s, mostly Asia from the ’80s, a lot of architectural work from 1990 when I shifted careers from journalism to interior design and got seriously interested in old colonial buildings. Who would want these images now, well, the door remains open on this – I’ve contacted archives to negotiate sales (at very reasonable fees), mostly in Europe where the curators and historians still have respect for old buildings, but so far to no avail.

    For now, for the time being, I have all these analog images stored in several metal filing cabinets in a secure room – okay, our second bedroom, aka my home darkroom and junk storage area, but weather-sealed and temperature-controlled. NO WAY will I even entertain the thought of destroying them for now – tho’ I remain haunted by the realization that when I’m but a memory, my executor, long-suffering partner or other family members may make the hard decision for me, and order in a hopper… but by then I will be past caring and beyond controlling the situation, so it isn’t really ‘s a (major) concern.

    Yet sometimes in the night I wake up and…

    Okay, I’ve depressed far too much on this, and poor Max may be faced with a comment much the same length as his most excellent article. So I’ll stop.

    The conundrum for me is, while we have a certain responsibility to family (and in a lesser extent to posterity) to preserve our images for future generations, what is the best way to go about ensuring that our negatives, slides and digital shots stay in as pristine a condition as we can keep them?

    This last point, I think, may be worthy of 35mmc articles in future – from far better writers than I am.

    Apologies for the length of all this, and many thanks for taking the time to read it. And my very best wishes to Max for many more of the same sort of quality articles in future.

    Dann in Melbourne, Australia

  • Reply
    Jay Dann Walker
    December 22, 2022 at 12:08 am

    A few (brief) thoughts for Rod White, responding to his most insightful posts, two above mine.

    Again, this could be me. I went thru exactly your situation back in the ’80s, when my then 70 year old mother started showing signs of the dementia which not many years later would mentally completely disable her and make life for my other siblings in Canada a misery. She took to destroying many items of interest and value to other family members, notably my original birth and adoption certificates (I’m an “acquired” child), school records, old family photos and whatever she found at home on days when her brain was wildly malfunctioning.

    I went back to Canada from Australia in 1982 and realizing what was about to happen, took possession of as many surviving photos and negatives (mostly from a 616 Kodak Box Brownie my stepdad bought in 1943 when they were married) which I took back to Sydney with me. I’ve now scanned them and sent digital images to my surviving brother and sisters, all of which were greatly appreciated and enjoyed. Mom passed away in 2021, age 101 and 11 months, after decades of mental and physical activity. So the memories survive.

    Rod, please consider that I say what follows with the utmost respect and sincerity, but looking after all your family visual treasures will give you something to fill in your time. Assuming you are somewhere near my age (70s), retired, and maybe with time on your hands. Your legacy is to do what you intend to do properly, and I agree with you in almost everything you said except for one thing – whatever you do, please do NOT destroy the original negatives and prints, but keep them for another family member who may want them in the future. This may be a niece or nephew who is only a child today. They will be most grateful to you for this. Think of the future, not your present (minor) discomfort in storing all that material.

    As I wrote previously, there is ample material here for several good articles. I truly hope a few of the fine writers here in 35mmc will pick up the idea and go with it.

    Dann in Melbourne, Australia

  • Reply
    Jay Dann Walker
    December 22, 2022 at 12:08 am

    A few (brief) thoughts for Rod White, responding to his most insightful posts, two above mine.

    Again, this could be me. I went thru exactly your situation back in the ’80s, when my then 70 year old mother started showing signs of the dementia which not many years later would mentally completely disable her and make life for my other siblings in Canada a misery. She took to destroying many items of interest and value to other family members, notably my original birth and adoption certificates (I’m an “acquired” child), school records, old family photos and whatever she found at home on days when her brain was wildly malfunctioning.

    I went back to Canada from Australia in 1982 and realizing what was about to happen, took possession of as many surviving photos and negatives (mostly from a 616 Kodak Box Brownie my stepdad bought in 1943 when they were married) which I took back to Sydney with me. I’ve now scanned them and sent digital images to my surviving brother and sisters, all of which were greatly appreciated and enjoyed. Mom passed away in 2021, age 101 and 11 months, after decades of mental and physical activity. So the memories survive.

    Rod, please consider that I say what follows with the utmost respect and sincerity, but looking after all your family visual treasures will give you something to fill in your time. Assuming you are somewhere near my age (70s), retired, and maybe with time on your hands. Your legacy is to do what you intend to do properly, and I agree with you in almost everything you said except for one thing – whatever you do, please do NOT destroy the original negatives and prints, but keep them for another family member who may want them in the future. This may be a niece or nephew who is only a child today. They will be most grateful to you for this. Think of the future, not your present (minor) discomfort in storing all that material.

    As I wrote previously, there is ample material here for several good articles. I truly hope a few of the fine writers here in 35mmi will pick up the idea and go with it.

    Okay more than enough (= far too much) said by me about this. No more!

    Dann in Melbourne, Australia

  • Reply
    Jay Dann Walker
    December 22, 2022 at 12:10 am

    Yes, I’m back. A small correction.

    In my last post – “Mom passed away in 2021, age 101 and 11 months, after decades of mental and physical activity. So the memories survive.”

    I meant to write at the close of all this, “…after decades of mental and physical Inactivity…”

    No more. As we say in Quebec, from me, c’est tout.

    Dann in Melbourne

  • Reply
    Bill Brown
    December 22, 2022 at 3:48 pm

    Well, quite a flurry of responses. I’m on the not destroy side of the fence. There I got that out of the way. I’m late to respond because I have been in the throws of my busy time of year. I’m a photo retoucher/ restoration specialist and family archivist in the DFW Texas region of the States. One of my oldest clients (since 1985), Photographique Dallas, offers photo restoration and preservation services. Rarely do clients have the original negative or tranni but when they do the final product we can produce is quite amazing. Most often we copy or scan an original print then do the restoration. I just completed almost 40 hours of restoration on 23 images from one families archive. Some as large as 16×20 hand tinted ovals down to wallet sized prints. They now have a beautiful set of files for future use. Compared to closets of outdated clothing or shelves of old magazines, Christmas decorations etc. the storing of family history doesn’t occupy much space.

    Before phone cameras, which virtually no one ever prints images from, film was the every day way to document the world around us. I see all of us film luddites as bridges to the past and keepers of not just our personal history but also the history of our own personal world. I know I’m cut from a different piece of cloth but I’m interested in history beyond my own. Seeing images from recent past to 100+ years ago enriches my life. I feel honored to be able to participate in the preservation and restoration of family histories. I guess you can call personal archives narcissistic but I see it more as my gift to future individuals that I will probably never meet. I took time out of the busy hustle and bustle of life to photograph _______. You fill in the blank. I see it as not just stopping to smell the roses but also photographing that rose. A rose that wilted and died shortly after. I see my neg or tranni as a way to stop and smell that rose again or remember the fragrance of my dear mom.

    You go your way and I’ll go mine.

  • Reply
    Matt L.
    December 27, 2022 at 8:35 am

    Hi Bill,
    Slightly off-topic, but can you post a link to your photo-retouching website, or your business email address?
    I have some retouching I need on a few scans i just had done, and w/ your speciality in restoration I’m wondering if u might be the guy to do it. Basically I recently shot a roll of 6×6 B&W up in the Sierras w/ a new (old) medium format camera I just got, and despite my careful inspection it produced visible light-leaks on frames that I’d like to have removed/corrected. The frames have already been professionally high-rez scanned and corrected in Lightroom (and were properly exposed and processed to begin with) but of course the light-leaks are still visible in the scans, and need to be layer-masked and corrected in PS to be less noticeable, and frankly I’m a bit out of practice, and so I thought I’d see what you’d charge to fix them.
    Anyway please post your business contact info, and i’ll reach out to you for a quote.
    Thanks Much,
    Matt

    • Reply
      Bill Brown
      December 27, 2022 at 4:45 pm

      Matt,

      My problem is that I don’t have a website and don’t do social media. I’ve never needed to advertise so I’ve never made that move. I have a photography exhibit coming in 2023 so I hope to have a web page created for that. For now send an inquiry to [email protected] and I will get back to you. Also, here is a link to an image I restored for an individual through Photographique, one of my clients since 1985. The final was around 16×20 in size and was printed on Epson Legacy Fibre. The restoration took just over 8 hours as I worked to maintain the visual integrity of the original. With the help of a friend we created a short before and after video that was posted on Photographique’s Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/p/CYZwevcvJPV/

      The cost of repair/restoration work is relative to the final output size that is desired. A 4×6 final is not big enough to show much but an 11×14 and bigger makes more detail visible. One of my specialties is large scale output but it is more costly due to the level of detail I am working with. I guarantee that any custom work I do receives my utmost attention and security. Any files in my possession are destroyed after the work is completed unless the client wishes for me to archive the image for possible printing. I print on wide format Epson printers and print on top archival grade Hahnemuhle and Epson papers depending on the clients choice of matte or photo black ink. Working with Photographique I can also print on Kodak Endura or Metallic papers.

      Hope this helps.
      Bill

      • Reply
        Matt L.
        January 5, 2023 at 11:48 pm

        Thanks so much Bill, and yes, I will reach out at the email address you mentioned, probably tonight (1/5).
        I looked through the scans yet, and really they are excellent except for the 2 or 3 that have the noticeable light leaks visible. The scans are 23Mp (apx. 11 Mb each), from 6×6, processed by one of the best labs in the country, and so have already been corrected in Lightroom in terms of density, contrast, etc to match the original B&W film stock, as well as fully spotted, so hopefully would be easy for you to work with.
        It’s just selecting and masking the light-leak areas, and then correcting density/exposure, and blending on the areas of the light-leaks on the 2 or 3 that I need, and I’m willing to pay your normal hourly rate for that. Since it’s B&W there are no color shift/correction concerns, thankfully.
        Honestly for someone w/ your PS skills I doubt each correction would take more than 15 minutes, but I’m sure you’d have to look at a sample to verify, and I understand that.
        Anyway I’ll email over one sample, and you can see what you think, and then see if you’d like to quote the job.
        Thanks Again, Matt

  • Reply
    Sulio Pulev
    December 29, 2022 at 9:15 pm

    Its a funny to see so much stupid fatty western peoples on one place. Why I think so NOT politically correct?
    1. There are digital obsolescence or Digital dilemma as formulated by ASC American Society of cinematographers. Its a serious problem.
    2. Digitization technologies develop and with every next round of development its reveal more and more details from the same negative. And better and better color rendering. But we still far from complete digitization. So we need to keep negatives as long as possible.
    3. There are new media – quartz disk that last more than 10 000 years and can hold both digital and abalog info/text/picture. But it’s still in the lab and with slow writing capabilities.
    4. In the western shitty countries as far as I know visual archives arw very appreciated and its a kind of crime to destroy visual originals.
    5. Greed for money in the bull$#1t west is notorious and I cannot understand why you don’t make money from that.
    6. Only deep amateurs have your way of thinking, so please stay at your amateur level and do not try to involve in professional world. Fotoreporter for local news paper and/or small village site, wedding photographer or portret photobooth for ID cards and passports, as well as publishing in western shitty media as Facebook, Instagram and similar do not make you Profesional despite your dreams and wishes.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      December 29, 2022 at 9:28 pm

      What’s funny is how some people resort to attacking the person, or in this case, “stupid fatty western peoples”, rather than just being able to share an opinion. This could have been an interesting comment, but instead, it’s just comes across as pathetic and small minded.

      • Reply
        Sulio Pulev
        December 29, 2022 at 10:12 pm

        If you clearly have not understand expressed opinions in this “attacking” ( but practically revealing western core) mean you are part of those western fatty stupid peoples. I know moronic mind of western and for that reason I especially enumerated it with a bullet numbers but this is still not enough for washed western minds to understand the message…. Which prove my opinion about very limited mind of the western peoples. Please, read it many time, check with google and Wikipedia, ask your chinese or russian friend to explain it slowly and may be you, limited abilities westerns can finally understand what I said.
        I do not attack somebody. I reveal the truth about western peoples, I say ” The king is nude” and I reveal the connection between very limited brain of the westerns and the problem in discussion. Because this approach can be born ONLY in the washed zeroed western mind. I know that today excessive politcorrectness, inclusiveness, me too, BLM etc forbid to say the truth about the things, but fortunately there are still peoples that do not fear to says ” The King is very nude”.

        • Reply
          Hamish Gill
          December 29, 2022 at 10:44 pm

          … well, hopefully you feel better now you’ve said you little bit. Thanks for your input.

        • Reply
          Max Cooper
          December 30, 2022 at 12:51 am

          I’m sorry, lemme just make sure I follow. Black Lives Matter forbids those of us in the west from speaking the truth about analog vs. digital archival systems?

          • Sulio Pulev
            January 3, 2023 at 6:45 am

            In the some extend – yes! BLM is a component of the system that hold you to speak only politcorect things that in no way can injures somebody…

          • Max Cooper
            January 3, 2023 at 6:34 pm

            And yet — I am free to say many things that might be far more concerning to the established status quo. You’d think I’d receive a much harsher rebuke for saying something along the lines of how alt-right fascism in the West is a direct result of post-Cold War Russian propaganda, an idea I’ve suggested on many platforms. But instead I get pushback on a piece about my old negatives? In fairness, I’ve never directly challenged a BLM protester with the idea that analog archival might be superior. The subject has just never come up. But I bet the ensuing conversation would make a really interesting piece on 35mmc.

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