Why Digitize Old Photographs?

Whether old photographs are a family's, a nation's or a school's, whether responsibility for digitizing the photos and making them available on the Web resides in one self-designated Webmaster or an entire division of a large library, the reasons for digitizing are essentially the same: preservation and dissemination.

As we know old photographic prints are very fragile. It is true that scanning photographs and archiving them on a computer hard drive does not protect them from every possible catastrophe. After all, computers crash, wiping out their contents. Nevertheless, where longevity is concerned, a digitized photograph seems a better choice than a fragile, fading print or a fragile negative that is prone to all sorts of damage.

Collections of digitized photographs can be viewed by people who cannot travel to the original storage place (whether that place is a chop-box in your garage or The British Library in London). When old photographs are digitized and disseminated via the Web, a record of the past — a family's, a school's — is made available to anyone who has access to a computer and the Internet.


Binary vs Paper

Damage to photographs can be of a chemical, biological, or physical nature. In many cases it is not so obvious what causes the damage, especially not for a layperson. The best advice is to consult a photographic conservator to check what can be wrong with the print and what can be done.


Principal causes of deterioration are:
  • exposure to light
  • fluctuating temperature and humidity
  • (air)pollutants
  • acidification of the paper support
  • moulds, fungi, bacteria, insects, rodents
  • handling of photographs
  • water-damage and fire
  • framing and lamination


This fifty year old photograph is slowly being eaten away by bacteria that live on it's surface. Fortunately we were able to restore it.

Many of these things can be avoided by proper storage and handling.

Chemical deterioration however, cannot be stopped. Only the speed of the deteriorating process can be reduced by keeping the photographs at the right temperature with the right humidity level.

Fluctuating temperature and humidity levels are one of the main causes of deterioration. Photographic materials that are used frequently in reading rooms or for printing, are especially vulnerable.

One of the preservation options is duplication another is digitization.

Duplication on modern polyester film garantees a high quality reproduction but is very expensive, digitization looks very promising.


Canon Digital Camera
Kodak Photo CD


Different ways to digitize your photographs

Flatbed Scanner
at 300dp

Camera Phone

Dedicated digital
camera 640x480


Send In Your Kwabotwe Photos

Please send us your photographs and we'll make sure they're here for us and future generations to enjoy.

Your images will be greatly appreciated. We can do a lot to restore images so send them in even if they're damaged.

Please give as much information as you can about the picture:

  • Where was it taken?
  • When was it taken?
  • Who is in it?
  • What year group?

If you don't have any of the answers send it in anyway, another 'old boy' might be able to solve the puzzle.



About The archive
A Short History of Photography
Icons of The 21st century 



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