Archival Demystification

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David Brommer, a good friend and frequent commentator on the ruinism blog, asked me the other day if I would join him on a little research trip. David had an interview scheduled with Ed Earl, the Curator of Collections at the International Center of Photography (ICP). David was early to embrace the digital world and has been training students, B&H staff, police officials, forensic officials, and the general public in his “Digital Demystification” for over 7 years. He is an excellent speaker and is heavily responsible for me playing with pixels these past few years. Not just a digital guru, David has been a fine art photographer for over 17 years, has run his own gallery, shoots with an 8×10 camera (in fact he took our group wedding shot with that camera), and prints platinum palladium. When we get together our talks eventually turn toward classic camera gear, printing techniques, Italian adventures, and the Simpsons.
David has been fine tuning his latest workshop “Archival Demystification” for over a year now and wanted to get the low down on how a prestigious gallery, like ICP, archives their work.

On our 15 minute walk to ICP David asked me some questions that I now want to ask you: How are you Archiving your Digital Images? What devices are you using for storage? How long do you think those devices will be good for?

Pretty scary questions that raises only more uncertainties. The conclusion we came to was that even if you back up your files to hard drives and gold cds there will always be an incredible technological transfer guaranteed in your life every 10 years. The only way to safely store your images for the future and for future generations is to PRINT them. Yes folks, in this wonderful glorious digital era where everyone can send their pictures across the world and view portfolios at a moments notice, WE MUST NOT FORGET TO PRINT!

Nothing beats holding a picture, hanging a photo on the wall, or making a book of memories. These are things that will give the photos, your work, new life and a chance to be passed along. I found things a bit simpler with film. You had your negatives in plastic sleeves, they were then hopefully filed away in anything from a shoe box to a BeBar. Your prints were put in photo albums (take them out of the plastic sticky ones right now), archival boxes, or again, shoe boxes. One box for negatives, one box for your 4 and 5 star prints and then the albums for the snaps and lifestyle shots. Simple right?

I recently purchased a couple of Archival Methods Storage Boxes that come with index cards and plastic sleeves and I plan on starting the daunting task of organizing about 10 years of color snapshots. Good luck seeing me over Passover vacation!

Here’s another question: How do you organize your digital files? By date? By theme? By work order? Do you use software like iView Media Pro or Extensis Portfolio? Or are you hoping that Aperture or Lightroom will be the right workflow? I tell you, whatever you do, stick with it. I have tried them all and by doing that, I have NO system, as it has changed every few months. Again, something I hope to rectify over the Passover break.

Quite a few of these same questions came up in the interview with Ed Earl. Just imagine, ICP has to organize a database to track hundreds of thousands of images. Fortunately, there are plenty of Museum based software solutions out there. Unfortunately, they’re all very expensive. Professionals are specifically hired to organize and care for the museums archives.

What’s going on behind the scenes?
Well, Ed was able to give us a tour of ICP’s archives. It was impressive to walk down the temperature controlled hallways and see the likes of Weegee, Vishniac, and Bresson. Not as big as the Government storage facility at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it was still exciting to be breathing in a perfectly archived room filled with the masters of photography.

To learn more about the “Archival Demystifaction” contact David Brommer and, hopefully, he will be touring in a town near you!