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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Speaker Mark McCormick-Goodhart - Digital Commonwealth 2010

The Role of Print Permanence in the
Digital Age, by
Mark McCormick-Goodhart

Both digital and original photography need attention by the modern archivist. In our culture, it is easy to discount the value of our digital images because they are in such an abundance. They are easy to lose. Original print images have archival, physical needs. Print permanence has become more complicated because:

  1. color fading on original photographs is ubiquitous. There are many ways to "fix" this technically, and standards are necessary.
  2. printing techniques have become complicated. There used to be very few elements involved in photography production, such as limited numbers of types of photo paper. Now, there are plenty of types of computers, printers, color cartridges, and papers, just using personal computer production as an example.
In order to address the needs of the archivist, McCormick-Goodhart has set out to create a "Consumer Reports" type of database for technologies that produce / maintain color, providing a metric which evaluates that retention.

Aardenburg Imaging and Archives is McCormick-Goodhart's company and website. The site has public and subscriber components, geared towards the professional. The archivist working with physical and digitized images will find this site useful.

Following the tab marked "Test Results" leads the user to the part of the website consisting mainly of a spreadsheet with sortable columns, wherein there are results of his testing and comparisons. McCormick-Goodhart has made a good use of crowdsourcing by opening out the testing of aspects of photographic images such as "light fading" to members of the website. There are many ways a print can degrade, ex. light-induced, temperature induced, etc. The spreadsheet covers what equipment was used and what the results of the "light fading" experiments were. Using these metrics, an archivist can make print life predictions.

McCormick-Goodhart raised the question: archival or even "reasonable care" can make even fragile pieces last 100 years, but what kind of shape is it in?

McCormick-Goodhart then spoke of the history of the digital image.
Printing is now optional and there are images now that were "born digital."
In 1997, consumers could purchase a do-it-yourself home photo printer.
In 2008, Walmart created a machine that used roles of ink-jet paper, which mass-produced images. Contrastingly, 1996: Fine art printing studios began using digital processing to make "original" pieces of art, and digital fine art printers were used as early as 1991.

We can value printed photos in two ways:
  1. print as storage container - information content, or
  2. a medium. The photo is a treasured object, so we need to preserve that object.
Do we color balance that object, or does the re-purposed image have the same value?

When a photograph ages naturally, or by means of an artificial aging process, the color changes. We are all familiar with yellowed family photos. That yellow is an example of "false color." The two major areas of film degradation are
  • color, and
  • tone.
The I* metric, created by McCormick-Goodhart, is an objective metric for quantifying the retention of color and tonal accuracy in an image. He does this by assigning a percentile scale to photographic degradation, simplifying the whole process for those who do not understand the sciences of color and tone in photographic imagery.

These percentiles are the evaluative metrics that are available at McCormick-Goodhart's Aardenburg Imaging and Archives website under "Test Results."

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