In 2020, IWM initiated Digital Futures, a five year project to digitise 1.8 million films, photographs and sound recordings and improve the storage and slow down the degradation of 6.8 million items by freezing, isolating or refrigerating them. This mass preservation project is digitising some of our most vulnerable media from the Cold War era.   

Image
This image shows the process required to produce high quality reproductions that appear as intended when the original photographs were taken. Images have been corrected and optimised at IWM's Visual Resources department to bring back colour accuracy and detail, removing colour casts, as negatives degrade over time and become faded.
© IWM (TR 018330A)

IWM holds approximately 11 million photographs across negative, print and digital formats primarily covering the activities of British and Commonwealth forces in times of conflict from official, press, and private perspectives. The collection includes international perspectives on war and conflict and includes military and civilian voices.  

Images played a key role in shaping the public memory of the Cold War. Seventy years later we’re now prioritising the digitisation of these images to increase public access and preserve them for the future.  

Image
This image shows the process required to produce high quality reproductions that appear as intended when the original photographs were taken. Images have been corrected and optimised at IWM's Visual Resources department to bring back colour accuracy and detail, removing colour casts, as negatives degrade over time and become faded.
This image shows the process required to produce high quality reproductions that appear as intended when the original photographs were taken. Images have been corrected and optimised at IWM's Visual Resources department to bring back colour accuracy and detail, removing colour casts, as negatives degrade over time and become faded. © IWM (TR 20459)

Old photographs will often show signs of aging and this can eventually make them impossible to digitise. These signs of aging are yellowing, image fading and dye fading, which you can often see in family photo albums. Another is cellulose acetate degradation, what we commonly refer to as vinegar syndrome. Vinegar syndrome is a condition that makes film negatives shrink, buckle and become brittle. It also gives off a strong vinegar smell as an early warning that aging is taking place. We can slow vinegar syndrome by storing negatives in large freezers, but digitisation is the key to preserving the content.  

Our digitisation efforts are supported by a robust approach to digital preservation. We continue to leverage our investment in large capacity digital storage at Duxford, which enables us to store multiple copies of master data and backups of our ingested digital assets.   

We continue to work on the integration between our Digital Asset Management System (DAMS) and our Collection Management system (Adlib), by making sure that the correct mandatory metadata are captured, stored and checked and is linked to the new digital files. Metadata is the information which describes in detail the digital files (e.g. technical specifications, integrity, provenance, creator and more).

Over the next five years of Digital Futures, 1.8 million new digital objects will be made available through our online collections.