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My great good fortune to travel in the Central and Eastern European countries has caused me to ponder the longevity of photography.  We speak of “archival” prints.  We store our “digital negatives” on the supposedly immutable internet “cloud.”

I have some silver gelatin prints that I made more than 25 year ago that still look pretty good.  I have a bin half full of film negatives and slides, sealed and happily accompanied by multiple silicone gel packs that look “printable.”  I have seen tintypes and “salt” prints that are 150 plus years old.  I own a couple of recent paintings by talented and thoughtful artists in canvas and acrylic.  I know some talented sculptors who work in fabric, sheet metal and even paper but not stone.   I am constantly assured that all of these are examples of permanent work produced with archival materials.  If properly stored, they will last for 50 to 100 years. Canon, Canson, Museo, Red River, Hanemuhle, Kodak, every DVD maker assures me that their materials are of archival quality and will last 100 years.  This is an easy claim to make to someone who will not be around to call them on it.

Over the past 12 months, traveling in Europe, I have seen beautiful 450 year old oil paintings, 3000 year old architecture and 6,000 year old sculpture.  They have stood the test of history without being stored in “a cool, dry place protected from sunlight.” Every 36 months, I have to transfer my images from “old” to “new” media and come to terms with the devices that “read” them.  Files stored on the “cloud” are hard to keep track of and I am convinced (I am OCD and a little paranoid) that quality suffers in the transmission.  If I actually make prints, will they last 25 years? Long enough for me as I’m 67 and will never see the consequences of failure.

Ephemera – I propose that we all, producers and consumers, of visual art, henceforth treat our work as ephemeral – as temporary.  Ephemeral can mean 100 years or more – a generation or maybe two, not that anyone here has that long of an attention span.  I suggest that we make our art for today and for ourselves according to our own needs at the time.  Make our impact (no matter how insignificant) on today, OUR culture and our time.

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