From Esther's Follies in Austin, Texas
Jobs these days seem more focused and people-oriented around my studio these days but it wasn't always so. In the early part of the century my business was that of a photographic generalist, I would make headshots one day, images of semiconductor image dies the next day and maybe circuit boards or finished high tech products the following day. There was more of a flow then to the work instead of the stop and start of the bigger but fewer projects we handle now.
Those were the days when all of our archiving was done on CD-roms. Tons and tons of CD-roms. The CDs eventually gave way to DVDs as the camera files grew larger and DVD technologies and reliability improved. In a given week, while working with CDs, I or my assistant might burn up to 30 or more disks in order to do a 3X redundant back-up of a project. More if we were returning from a multi-day annual report shoot carrying envelopes packed with CF memory cards.
It was time consuming but having come from film we understood that digital file storage at the time was much more fragile and transient and we had yet to really experience the ever accelerating rise and quick fall of stat-up businesses. Most of our clients were venerable "blue chips" and we had every expectation that they'd be around for the long haul and might expect us to be able to access photograph from a decade or so past.
At some point we woke up and realized that even clients like IBM and Motorola were not immune to the ravages of the markets. One of my biggest clients, Motorola, started bleeding resources like something had opened one of their arteries and in a short time span they spun off their body parts (different product sectors) like crazy. Our big piñata was the semiconductor sector and it was sold off as Freescale which was then taken private, then relaunched as a new public company and then bought by NXP who may or may not end up selling the very diminished and debt laden remainders to Qualcomm. Each successive owner downsized the company and cut expenses. We've gone from working for them once or twice a week to once or twice a year.
So, when I looked through my archives I found over 100 pounds of CDs and DVDs with old photos of microprocessor products long since obsoleted from the market, headshots against boring backgrounds of people long retired and even CDs of candid photos from holiday parties. The 100 pound archive/anchor is just images created before 2005. All of these went into the trash this morning and the process has just started but man oh man does it ever feel good to rid my brain of the task of keeping a running, sub-conscious inventory of all that stuff. The sense of closure for the previous decade is euphoric.
We did a similar "cleansing" last year with old 35mm negatives. Mostly headshots against early century backgrounds like our "Dell Blue" headshots and our "Motorola Gray" headshots. Images that were uninspired at their time of creation and even more so today.
So, we're down to two cameras we work with and a jumble of drives. I no longer look at this profession as one in which we save images beyond three years. I'm thinking more like a consultant whose work has value in the moment or a carpenter who builds a project and then walks away. Keeping "forever" archives is like a permanent babysitting job with no pay off.
We've amended our paperwork to limit the time we save and keep client files to three years. Don't like that? Don't work with me. Or learn how to save the files we send you.
Unless all your work is done at the highest level you'll surely generate a fair amount of crap along the way. Nothing says you are required to keep the stuff that's starting to smell.