Peter Huntoon submitted these further comments on the fading of digital images.
I have read with great interest the comments that have been submitted on this topic over the
past few weeks. Most have been technically oriented with explanations, rationalizations and
speculations on how fading can or cannot occur, with targets for how it can occur being (1) repeated
image manipulation and (2) limitations of different file storage formats. The widely used JPG and JPEG
compressed file formats have received most of the attention and rightly so because they are heavily
used in archival work because of space considerations.
The implication from these comments is that fading does in fact occur; however, virtually
missing for our dialog so far is actual acknowledgment that anyone is willing to admit that they have
observed fading other than my own blunt statement at the outset that the digital images I have saved
are unambiguously fading and the degree of fading is a function of age. My oldest images are about 30
I simply ask you again the number one question.
Have any of you noticed that digital images you have saved have
This is a yes or no question. If you have, let us know.
I met this past week with Peter Runga, the administrator of Special Collections at the Cline
Library at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. Special collections is a major repository for rare
books, historic documents, photographs, etc. and that unit as well as the Cline Library itself are up to
their necks in digitization and digital storage. I asked him about their experience. He groaned and said
fading was a major problem. Like me, he is not a techie, but a user. Our anecdotal experiences were
identical, but of course the breath and depth of his experience far outweighs mine. Sobering was this
Huntoon's off the cuff remark:
At the rate my images are deteriorating, they will be gone in a
Runga, turning sharply and looking me straight in the eyes:
We then discussed his observation and these perspectives emerged.
(1) fading of digital image is real and is of major concern among archivists.
(2) Fading is dependent on
shelf life – that is how long the image has been stored in a particular
storage device regardless of image format.
(3) Modern computers can copy stored images with a high degree of fidelity so information loss is
not a big issue when image data are repeatedly moved between servers or lifted by users from
such storage because computers can check the copy against the original. However, what gets
copied and checked is what remains of the original in storage at the moment it is copied.
I've not noticed fading of digital images, although I don't have a photo archive outside of The E-Sylum. We use Flickr as our hosting service and began loading images in February, 2008. Our first issue using images was published on May 18, 2008. I went back to look at some of our earlier images.
The first image in our archive is of a gold coin that was uploaded on February 29, 2008 - about 15 years ago. It looks fine.
The first image of paper money was an image of a chopmarked note submitted by Howard Daniel. It looks odd (is it black and white?), but I don't remember if it arrived that way or not.
Below is a .jpg photo Peter retrieved from the Smithsonian BEP archive. He says the file had not been opened, edited or moved in years. I would agree that it looks washed out.
So back to Peter's question: Have any of you noticed that digital images you have saved seem
Taken on November 2, 2007
Uploaded on February 29, 2008
Uploaded on April 8, 2008
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
ON THE FADING OF DIGITAL IMAGES
READERS ON THE FADING OF DIGITAL IMAGES
Wayne Homren, Editor
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