Tuesday, 17 February 2015
A need for a long-term photographic archive
The quality of modern digital photography is amazing. One has only to turn to Flickr wildlife pools to see a fantastic array of shots. Obviously a good many are of regularly photographed subjects but amongst them there are absolute gems. In the case of hoverflies, I have spent the last 6 years investigating photographic records and have built up a substantial database of URLS that effectively form records. Some of these shots will be available for the foreseeable future but if they reside on Flickr Pro their future is less certain because they will not be hosted when the photographer stops paying for the web hosting facility.
This raises the tricky question of what happens to photos after one's inevitable demise? A collection of insects can be donated to a museum (well, maybe a few can), but what about one's photographic archive? In the case of insect photos, we might well want such an archive and retrieval service. Steve Falk's Flickr pages are an invaluable identification aid and his photos have been immensely important in the Hoverfly WILDGuide. So too has the work of several other excellent photographers. I would be very sad if these fantastic resources were not 'saved for the nation'. After all, in many cases they are not only fantastic wildlife shots but also works of art.
It seems to me that there is a need to tackle the question of a national photo archive - is it not time that one was created? Preserving photos for posterity also provides a way of storing photographic vouchers and also establishes a huge educational resource. It seems to me that there is a need for the biological recording community to look at this issue and to consider the establishment of such an archive. It is a pretty novel scenario, so I imagine it could be put together as an HLF bid as a follow-up to other 'citizen science' initiatives.
I suspect that archive facilities would attract huge support from photographers. In many cases there will be photos that might be identified in the future, so this could be a form of record storage in the same way that museums store large volumes of unidentified material that may at some stage help to answer a critical question. Who should be encouraged to pick up the baton and provide a lead?