While the born-digital image has become today’s most dominant form in the production and distribution of photography, for photographic archives and collections the process of digitization of analogue holdings plays a key role in their indexing, publication, and utilization. In this context, cultural institutions need to consider what quality criteria should be applied to the process of digitization and how the digitized images are to be used. As part of SITUATIONS/Lab, Katharina Rippstein, head of the image archive of Fotostiftung Schweiz, provides an inside view of their practice of digitization.
In the world of the photo archive, terms like “archival master file” and “derivative file” are now well established. The archival master is an image file that fulfils very specific technical parameters and is the closest possible equivalent to the analogue photograph. Over the years, the analogue photo lab has created negatives and prints whose visual appearance was determined by the technical possibilities current at the time in which they were produced. Nowadays, when negatives are digitized in the Fotostiftung’s Digital Lab and inverted so as to create positive copies, there are any number of options available with image-processing software. Even if the virtual tools are geared to those used in the dark room, the transformation of the analogue negative into a positive digital image also poses complex, and indeed ethical questions about a suitable mode of interpretation.
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