Are films and photographs ageing slower?

Not sure how much of this has to do with my age (I’m 35) but I have recently been noticing a certain phenomenon.

Films and photographs seem to have stopped “ageing”, or at the very least, are ageing too slow for me to notice.

Let me give some examples of what I mean Flicking through TV, I sometimes stumble upon a replay of a sports game played 10+ years ago, or a music video from ~15 years ago. It’s not immediately apparent however, that the thing I’m watching wasn’t filmed far more recently.

A recent piece I watched on 60 Minutes interviewed a girl whose father died 8 years earlier. The report inter-spliced footage from her interview with her dad’s funeral. If you didn’t have context, you’d assume the funeral shots were filmed at the same time as the interview, such was the indistinguishable nature of the 8 year old footage.

I seem to recall that, in any other period of my life (let’s say 2005), if I was seeing film footage, or a photograph from ~ten years earlier (around 1995), its age would be immediately apparent. I may not be able to pick the exact year, but I could tell what I was looking at was “old” and not recent. I’m trying to work out why I’ve lost the ability to do this when looking at most films and photos from the last 10-15 years. Is it because film and picture quality has been holding steady for some period of time now? Is fashion and other visually obvious trends changing slower than they once did? Is it just because of my age, I think that “ten years ago” wasn’t actually that long ago, because I can remember those periods so clearly?

All of the above?

I think a big part of what you’re describing is because there really isn’t film (at least for pictures) anymore. A picture from 1970, by 1995 is going to be yellow, and if it’s been stuck in a photo album it may be kind of disintegrated from the sticky backing. And then, to add to that, to put that picture on TV, it has to be scanned into a computer.
OTOH, the majority of pictures from the last 10-15 years have been taken with a digital camera or a phone. In 50 years I can still download that picture from wherever I have it stored, give it to a journalist and it’s going to look exactly the same as the day it was taken (ignoring any losses due to the format it’s stored it).

I imagine video (TV/movies) are similar, but you can also add in huge advances in the type of film used, when they use film, as well as advances in how it’s stored. Gone are the days of using nitrate film and storing them in whatever spot was available. Higher quality film and climate controlled storage will make a big difference. But, even if we still used the same old film, everything ends up digitized for streaming and DVD/Blu-Ray, so the quality will always be there.

Besides what Joey_P said, some of the old footage you have seen may have been restored.

I have noticed almost the opposite, mostly with sports footage. Certainly with sports clips taken before digital recording was popular, it is easy to recognize the difference between B&W film, color film, and digital tape. There are differences in both the format and resolution that will be evident and even someone who did not live through the changes would at least recognize that they are older formats.

But, with footage taken in the past 15-20 years, it’s all digital and “high resolution” or “wide-screen” format (unless it was taken with a phone, in which case it is “tall screen” format :wink: ). But, when they show older clips, say during the Super Bowl, of games from 10-15 years ago, they will artificially “age” the footage (digitally add “scratches” and yellow the footage), I guess to let the viewers know that it is not current.

They don’t have to do this with stuff 25 years or older, since it is obvious to the viewer that it is an older technology, but with the newer stuff, it can be a bit more difficult. When I first noticed it, it reminded me of the early days of “Instant Replay” when they flash a graphic on the screen during the replay to let the viewers know it was not live action. They stopped doing that once the viewing public got used to it (in fact, began to expect every play to repeated).

I think as we age, our perception of what’s modern does not keep up with reality. Maybe you still have the T-shirt you wore in college, so it doesn’t look old, even though no college student today would wear something like it.

How do you know it’s “artificially” aged? Could it be from film, not videotape, and the scratches are real?

Old film that has been well preserved looks great. I love watching old (mid 20th C.) movies because it’s like being right there in 1960 or whenever. Film was always in high definition, but TV wasn’t. They probably looked a lot worse when they were aired on TV in the 80s and 90s.

That said, pictures I took in the 90s and early 2000s look dated. I suspect, however, that if I got the negatives and reprinted them, they’d look pretty good. I don’t think it’s the film that ages (it does age, but we’re not talking about 1920s cellulose that’s already rotted away here, but “modern” film from the post-Kodachrome era), it’s the actual prints that age.

Also, don’t overlook the subject matter. No matter how photorealistic the print, that picture of me with sun-in bleached hair and frayed JNCOs won’t ever look like it was taken yesterday.