Preserving family memories on tape

January 31, 1994|By Newsday

Memories were served up as gifts to the thirtysomething sons of Jean Oxer this Christmas. Two videotapes awaited Bruce, Bobby and Brian, who watched everything from their little sister Barbara, now 29, riding a motorcycle as a child to Bruce holding parrots during a family vacation in Florida when he was 3. The videotape concludes with a close-up of a portrait of Jean holding her granddaughter, 2-year-old Alexa.

It was Barbara's idea to go through the footage of 8 millimeter and Super 8 film shot by her mother decades ago. Some of the color had started to fade, so Barbara had the film -- more than 3,000 feet -- transferred and edited onto videotape. It's now the Oxer family journey down Memory Lane via VCR.

"I took pictures of all the events my children went through and all their activities," Ms. Oxer, of Long Island, said, explaining why she filmed her children diving, skiing and motorcycling. "I have pictures of the house being built . . . I just feel that if you have these pictures, there's nothing like them to have a look back."

Daughter Barbara agrees, which is why she invested more than $300 in the making of the videotapes that show a compilation of film, slides and still photographs in chronological order. "I got the idea, because eventually the color [in films] changes and fades. You can't help that, but you try to preserve your memories as long as you can. It's for my brothers to pass on to their kids, and when I do get married I'm giving the videotape to my kids. That's the main purpose, so my kids can laugh at me and say, 'That was my mom?' It's something that gets the family closer."

Video and photo experts agree but caution that memories aren't forever if the proper steps are not taken to preserve, restore or duplicate videos and film.

"Videotape is finite," said Michael Wilke, general manager of the digital media division of Ampex, the California-based company that invented the first commercially practical videotape recorder 1955. "Either you're going to suffer magnetization loss over some period of time or at some time the loss will be so significant you won't be able to get an acceptable picture off of the videotape. Over a long enough period of time, some deterioration will happen. The question is how fast it will happen and what you can do to preserve the videotape."

Ampex has a videotape care guide that, among other things, indicates: "All forms of high-density storage media must be treated with tender loving care if the contents are to be faithfully reproduced years later." This "love" has a lot to do with environment, particularly temperature and humidity. Mr. Wilke advises that videotapes be stored in "human conditions," meaning not terribly cold or hot. Ideally, for an archivist, that temperature would be below 50 degrees with the humidity around 40 percent, but Mr. Wilke said a warmer environment, between 68 and 70 degrees with a relative humidity of 45 to 55 percent, works for the average videotape owner. This also rules out the common practice of storing videotapes in the basement or attic, perhaps the worst places in a home for videotape storage because of the moisture and dust.

But let's say you're doing all the right things: storing videos like books on a bookshelf, making sure tapes are rewound at all times (which discourages warping and a bleed-through effect that can take place in tapes that are not rewound), keeping your VCR clean and working properly, having correct labels on tapes and poking out the small tab on the spine of the videotape to prevent an accidental recording over something valuable.

Ray Nieves, owner of Classic Video Duplications in Westbury, N.Y., offers a few tips for a long videotape life: "Start off taping with a high-quality tape, not the cheap, discounted tape. The best tape is professional-grade or high-density. It costs a little more, but in the long run it's worth it," he said. "Also, record at the fastest speed possible. By recording at SP [standard play] you get the best quality and true color definition from the tape."

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