The Art of Archiving the Past.

Do you ever see those old people who are into those old things and the only thing you can think to yourself is “they grew up with it, so it must hold a special place in their heart?”
That isn’t always true. Sometimes those things are older then they are.

It is the duty of future generations to hold onto the good things from the past. But not just hold on to them, but to learn to appreciate them and experience them.

Most of us are younger and we don’t think about it too often. We’re into what we’re into. When’s the last time you watched a black and white movie from the 1940’s or listened to a record from the 1930’s? Maybe it’s not your thing. But I think that as we get older and the generations who lived during those times die off, we’ll come to a better understanding and appreciation for some of that stuff. It’s like a snapshot of the past. A different world. After all if we don’t keep these things and enjoy them, who will?

Someone or some group of people in the past took time during their life to create something. That’s special. It doesn’t have to be a movie or a record. It could be a book, a painting, a building, whatever.

Obviously there is a lot of history. Pop culture, sub culture, family culture or even personal stuff from the past. I’ve always taken a little bit of pride in being the person in my family to try and archive the past. I’m the first to take the old photos and 8mm film movies my family shot, even before I was born, and transfer them to new digital formats for future use. I want to keep a record of my families existence. I guess that’s the photographer in me. But same is true of audio recordings and written stuff. I’ve got audio and video recordings of my dad and even saved a few little notes he’s written, his signature and even scanned his old drivers license. I appreciate these things even more now that he’s gone. I want my son and all generations after him to have this stuff.

Here’s a great idea, go out and get yourself an HD video camera and then go and interview your grandparents or your parents or whoever. One day those people will be gone, but you’ll have their story on video. How they grew up, what the remember about the past, funny family stories, what the world was like when they were kids. I really wish I would have done this with my grandmother and my dad. A nice formal on tape interview. But I’m going to do it with my mother very soon. She’s in her mid sixties now and even if she’s around for decades to come (which I hope she is) the older she gets the foggier certain memories become.
It makes a difference because it’s someone you know. Think about what your great grandchild would think about seeing your grandmother or mother on video talking about her life. Even other people not related will be interested to see it because it will be a snapshot of a world long gone.

I suggest an HD camera because the future will be higher quality so you want to capture at the best quality you can afford. HD cameras go for as little as $500 these days. Small investment for generations of viewers. But even if you can’t get an HD video camera, get at least some digital video camera. Something is better then nothing. Also take some high quality digital still pictures. Scan things, archive things.

This is a mission I give to you. You and your generations after you will thank me for it later.

Here are some tips:
1. Use good lighting. The more light the better but don’t blow out the whites, you can never get those back in editing.
2. Good audio is very important, the closer the mic the better. 6-18inches from the person talking is a good range. Make sure the audio is high volume enough but not too high it’s distorting. Some camera’s have audio meters. If it’s in the yellow it’s good, if it’s in the red it’s bad.
3. Never shoot into the light. As in don’t shoot directly at the sun or any other light source behind the subject. You’ll only get a silhouette.
4. Use good framing, the rule of thirds.  Here’s an example:
5. Alway try to save in the highest quality format. Save the original source files.
6. Keep active in moving those source files to new storage. Nothing lasts forever, this includes DVD, hard drives and even memory cards, so make multiple copies and keep transferring those digital files to new media every so many years. You don’t want to lose it and you don’t want to entrust it to someone who doesn’t care.

Now go out and complete your mission and then pass this mission along to the next generation. While you’re at it, go out and enjoy something from the past that someone else has already archived for you.

Best of luck.

0 thoughts on “The Art of Archiving the Past.

  1. I’m already sort of the family historian because I’m into genealogy.  I did have a few mini-interviews with my great-grandparents when they were still around, but I wish I had done it sooner and asked more questions.

  2. I love old stuff (of course, I’m a history major, so that’s hardly surprising).  Old movies, books, and audio recordings are like windows through time:  they are snapshots of the zeitgeist as it used to be, and I find them fascinating.  I’m particularly fond of movie serials from the ’30s and ’40s, old radio dramas, pulp novels, and comic books.

    Recently I got to do a massive, multi-part interview with my grandmother.  Born in 1930, she grew up during the Depression, was a teenager during the WWII years, and started her family in the booming 1950s:  needless to say, she’s of the perfect age to offer all kinds of insights into some key periods in American history.  Conducting the interview was a terrific experience.

  3. I’d love to do something like this.  In fact, when I was in 4th or 5th grade, I was featured in the local newspaper, picture and all, for interviewing a few people at the old folks’ home as part of an assignment.  Unfortunately, my parents didn’t hang on to any of that stuff :( 

    My family’s really broken and splintered, though.  My parents and I barely get along (and they don’t speak to anyone else in the family), I’ve drifted apart from my aunts and uncles and cousins, and my grandmother (the matriarch of the family and as strong willed as you’ll ever meet) stopped talking to me because of a stupid political disagreement (well, more accurately, the topic happened to be politics, but that wasn’t actually what the argument was about).  My husband doesn’t have any grandparents left, and my last great-grandparent just died.  I wish I would’ve thought of this before she passed… at 96, she was a fountain of stories!

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