It goes without saying that photographers want their work to continue on into an undefined future- to be available almost in perpetuity. But to do that requires establishing an archive containing the photographer’s “important work”. And setting up an archive means looking well into the future – 25, 50 or even 100 years –

Some would argue that the best way to archive photographs is to print everything you want the archive to include. While that may be true in the abstract, the reality of archival printing and storage certainly raises a number of issues.

  • Archival printing gets extremely expensive when you have a large number of prints to make.

  • Archives that contain a significant number of physical prints require a significant allocation of specialized storage space {read: flat files).

  • Archive storage for physical print demands a highly controlled environment (light, temperature, humidity, etc.).

  • Archiving with physical prints severely limits access and portability.

  • While experts in print longevity claim that a properly made archival inkjet print can last ‘a hundred years or more in a controlled environment’, there is also a lot of evidence that it will last just 10 or 15 years.

Some argue the digital approach is fraught with its own set of issues.

  • Hardware used for digital archiving today may not be compatible with future systems.

  • Hardware used to store the archive may fail at some point in the future,

  • Software needed to view the archive may not be available on future systems.

  • File formats used for digital archiving today may not be compatible with future systems.

  • There is more chance of user error with digital archiving systems that may erase the entire archive.

While there are risks and pitfalls with both approaches to archiving, it would certainly seem that the digital system has the advantage especially looking well into the future.

But first- backup vs archive

This is really a very simple distinction. An archive is designed for long term preservation of material while a backup file is for disaster recovery or to restore lost or corrupted data.

Decide what to archive-

This is a very personal decision taking both time and personal review.