University of Otago doctoral researcher Dawn Coburn with a
well-preserved photo of her aunt and uncle, Agnes and Harry
Beattie, of Middlemarch, as children, taken nearly 100
years ago and preserved on a glass negative, and an image
of herself, taken this week on her digital camera. Photo by
Many people are being lulled into a false sense of
security over their precious family photographs, stored on
computers, but such digital images can easily be lost,
researcher Dawn Coburn warns.
Ms Coburn will graduate from the University of Otago with a
doctorate in surveying and information science today after
completing a thesis titled "Gone Tomorrow? Choosing the past
to create the future".
Her study aimed "to alert people to the possible loss of
their photographic heritage through changes arising from the
shift to digital technologies", her research abstract noted.
Many more images were being captured these days, because of
the switch to digital format, but the result, paradoxically,
might leave "fewer traces than the small number of
photographs from past eras".
She had found sharply focused photographs of some of her
relatives, preserved on glass negatives, which had survived
nearly 100 years, but it was questionable how many of today's
digital images would survive far into the future, she said in
"People don't realise how vulnerable their digital files
Ms Coburn, of Middlemarch, is a former head of the technology
department at the then Dunedin College of Education.
Many people wrongly thought their images were safe.
But her research showed that some people who had previously
been careful to safeguard key photographs in family albums,
and to write identifying details on the back of the images,
were no longer being so careful with digital images.
Digital images stored in the same place could be lost,
including by fire at the property, or through bigger
disasters, such as the Christchurch earthquakes.
Changes in computer systems could quickly make stored data,
including images, hard to retrieve.
She urged people to select a relatively small number of
digital images which were important to keep, and to share
them - accompanied by accurate identifying information- with
family, friends, or a community archive.
Images, preferably with accurate embedded data, should be
saved in more than one location and format, including by
printing them out and putting them in an album.