Preservation Fragments #1

By: Joshua Ranger
September 5, 2014

Obsolescence and Our Relationship with the Material

There are many reasons things end. Many of those reasons are not bad. Change is the nature of existence, the nature of growth. Real archiving and preservation should acknowledge this, sometimes tacitly on the surface but always explicitly in some manner. Conservation. Intervention. Reformatting. Selection. Deaccessioning. Materials come and go, they decay or persist through our explicit action or explicit inaction. Our efforts at preservation, at arrangement and contextualization, are important contributions to the growth and change of culture and human knowledge. But those efforts can also arc towards stasis and frivolity, in our practice and our theory.

It might seem like stasis is a goal for preservation, but it’s not. First because it’s impossible. Second, and less facetiously, because there are so many factors beyond our direct influence or beyond the influence we foolishly believe we have.

At one extreme we have disasters, which can have a deleterious impact even with our best planning and preparation. At the other end we have the marketplace…which may be considered a disaster of another type. Obsolescence, cheap consumer products, manufacturing shortcuts, and financial stability all have an effect on our efforts to preserve audiovisual materials, and an effect on the decisions we make on reformatting or format selection.

We moan about Sony pumping through video formats, Ampex making crummy audiotape in the late 1970s/early 1980s, Kodak discontinuing stocks, and Apple mucking about willy-nilly with ProRes and with QuickTime support. It’s part of the game and the frustration and the challenge and the heartbreak of relationships. A co-dependency with the corporate personhood manufacturing goods, and then withdrawing them from us. The art of filmmaking and storytelling makes us fall in love in many different ways, yet how do we separate that love from the material in order to move ahead with change?

Joshua Ranger