I have written before about the treatment of family photos and other artifacts from previous generations. I recently re-encountered the collection of old 16mm home movies made by each of my grandfathers, which span a time range from the 1930s to the 1960s. I had sort of decided that I didn’t want to invest the time and expense of converting them to modern digital media just to look through them maybe once, wondering who these unknown people are, at events and places that have no particular meaning to me.
Still, I couldn’t bring myself to discard them, ending their life in some landfill. So I made a final effort to find someone who might actually be interested in them, perhaps as props for period theater productions, or as some old-timey footage to place in a modern film project. A google search did not find such uses, other than to mention that there is a market for old movies, without really listing many. But one suggestion was to check with local historical societies, who are sometimes interested in them for research and documentary purposes.
My father, an early adopter of nearly everything, took on a project to digitize a collection of historical family photos that had accumulated over many generations and that were now in his possession. It was the early years of digital photography when scanning technology was barely up to the task, and computer image file formats were crude by today’s standards.
Nevertheless, he forged ahead and built a repository of over 700 scanned photographs dating back to the 1800s. He recognized a weakness in the collection—there was no context, no annotations, no identifications of the people portrayed. Old photographs lose their value when this information, originally held in the memories of those who were around at the time, is not recorded.
My father knew this and wanted to somehow attach the information about the photo, in the scan of the photo. I know this, because he asked me (an imaging scientist) about how to do it. Unfortunately, at the time, there was no standardized way to embed such “metadata” within existing image file formats. He was a man ahead of his time.