Do Digital Photos Threaten The Past?

from the not-really dept

Someone actually wrote their degree dissertation on the historical impact of digital photography. Her argument appears to be that thanks to digital photography, more images will get deleted on the spot, since the photographer can make the decision to keep or discard right away. In “destroying” those images, we are likely to lose some important element of history. There are a bunch of problems with this argument, which assume that digital camera storage won’t just get larger and larger, or easier to carry around. If anything, I would think that digital photography makes it easier to capture more and better images of historical events, since you can see right away what you got and what you missed.

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Comments on “Do Digital Photos Threaten The Past?”

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Ed says:

Neither better nor worse, just different.

First, I don’t buy the argument that as capacity gets larger, people won’t delete so many images. To some extent that’s true, but increases in media capacity generally go hand in hand with the demand for that capacity (e.g. larger resolution images with less compression). Do you save more draft copies of your Great American Novel just because hard drives are bigger? Possibly, but not to the extent that one would think given the difference between the 360K floppies of 20 years ago and the 60Gig hard drives of today.

So the author has a good point that the instant review and delete capabilities of digital cameras may mean that we’ll miss some opportunity to uncover unintentionally captured items of historical significance later, but weighing against this is the improved ability to record a good photo of the subject you’re intending to shoot. In the end, there will be as many (probably more) raw pictures for the historians to comb through; they’ll just be ones where the subject is in focus with his eyes open. And when something really significant is captured, people will save it anyway. Does anyone think that Abraham Zapruder would have erased his movie after reviewing it because he though the camera shook too much?

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