Environment and the Archive: Burtynsky on the Longevity of the Photographic Record

Edward Burtynsky
Edward Burtynsky

Play-Button This week’s episode of CBC’s radio program, Spark, features an extended interview with Canadian fine art photographer Edward Burtynsky. In the interview, Burtynsky discusses the problem of the long-term archiving of photographs and his proposal for the “Gallery of the Long Now” to be incorporated into the Clock of the Long Now project.

Burtynsky’s art is probably familiar to many Canadian environmental historians as he is well-known for his images of industrial landscapes. One of his photographs appeared on the cover of the 2007 special issue of Environmental History.

Environmental History, October 2007 (Vol. 12, No. 4)

His discussion with Spark host Nora Young covers an interesting environmental problem for historians regarding the longevity of the photographic record. With the increasing use of digital photography and the decline of print photographs, how will we keep and preserve photographs over a long period of time? Burtynsky gets into further details about this problem that are inherently environmental in nature regarding the quality of the different possible materials upon which a photograph can be stored from DVDs to finely-ground stone pigments to car paint.

This conversation is obviously a current concern for archivists, librarians, and historians. I think there is a compelling story in there for environmental historians to consider.

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