You too can take my workshop about how not to care much at all about photo archiving. It's $17,000 for a weekend; class of 50, and if I can fill up the glasses for three or four weekends in a row then I'll pretty much banish most relevant worries I've ever had....

But this is all about you and your need to horde everything you've photographed since you picked up a camera as a youngster and started plowing through film, memory cards and long nights of massaging your files/negs/slides and then printing them. At a certain point you'll likely wind up with a mountains and mountains of material and you'll also likely never have time to go in and touch, much less print/mount/exhibity much more than 1% of this "bounty."

If you've been a busy commercial photographer since the 1980's you might have many filing cabinets filled with contact sheets and corresponding sheets of negatives, along with floor to ceiling shelves of carefully burned CDs and DVDs with the bulk of your digital work carefully cataloged and stored. If you've bought into the "cloud storage" pet rock fad of the last few years you likely have most of your recent work up on someone else's server; just praying that their business model doesn't crash and burn overnight... along with your best recent work...

But here's the deal: You will most likely have compartmentalized the pile of images that matter most to you and you will have backed it all up so well it might never disappear. These images will most likely include, the negs and prints you made when you were just starting out and were fascinated with the magic of photography. You'll have the images you took of your super hot college girlfriend/boyfriend from those times when you convinced that person how great they would look nude; and then you took all those incredible photographs of them naked. And the photos still look great... You'll have the best images of your children, along with your favorite images of your long procession of wonderful cats and dogs. If you are adventurous you'll have great vacation images and if you included your family on these trips you'll have an even more valuable stash of images/memories.

No one would ever suggest that you NOT back up and worry about the loss of these images because you might NEED the comfort they'll likely provide as you age up, lose people, lose some ready memory and spend more time alone and in need of comfort and some connection to the wonderful moments of your life. Got it. Guard these memories like Ft. Knox. Caption the backs of the prints. Caption the cardboard around the slides. Caption the digital files. And save them like crazy.

But, if you are like me, and you shoot a bunch of images recreationally; whether you call it street photography or photo walk or visual sociology or landscape photography, you'll admit that if you aren't killing it in galleries with your work, and you aren't actively being collected by museums and institutions by a certain point in your life then you are doing all this stuff for the experience and joy of being in the middle of life and you are probably not going to be the next Mozart of the medium. Not the Picasso of the shutter button. And, if you are honest with yourself you'll come to realize that most of the work, while fun to produce and to share in the moment, is really nothing special. It's the stuff that your kids and spouses will be hauling out to the dumpster a few months after you've moved on to a different spiritual realm.

Then there are all of us who make photographs for a living. Do we need to be archiving and making safe for all eternity all of the outtakes of, say, a portrait sitting for Bob in XXX Company's accounting department, that we did on color slide film in 1992? The company may be gone. Bob may be long since gone. The image has little to no real aesthetic value and its only responsibility seems to be keeping the slide of Agnes, from the same shoot, comfortable in the slide sleeve in the next folder. You're really going to scan all those outtakes at high res, load them on to two locally resident hard drives, burn multiple DVDs of the images, send an SSD to your photographer friend in Des Moines and upload them to two different cloud services? Really?

I'll save you the $17,000 for the workshop. Any client work that you did, prior to five years ago that never even was considered as portfolio work for yourself, gets deleted or goes in the trash. Any work that does not have historical value and now looks old and dated in your "art" files gets left on whatever piece of storage it now inhabits and you stop nursing it on misguided migrations to ever newer storage. From this point forward you tell all clients that they have to keep their hands on the material they've licensed from you....for as long as their company exists.

If you get hired to do a job that's so good it ends up in your dream portfolio then treat it like those family pix. But realize that at some level a lot of what all working photographers do is like plumbing or changing the oil in cars. It's just work. Not art work, just work work. We do it to pay the bills and we do it because we like the process better than flipping burgers or presenting horrible, horrible PowerPoint decks. It's transient. We're not painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It's more like we're painting someone's office walls and we're not even sure we liked the color they picked out.

Surely you can understand that not everything your camera encounters turns to gold. So why do we treat all of it like we are curating a filing cabinet full of Renoirs. Honestly, you have to fail a lot in order to finally succeed in anything but the really smart artists know how important it is to throw out all the failures and not sit around swimming in the detritus of work done mostly as a series of exercises.

Instead of fixating on saving every chewing gum wrapper from every stick you've chewed, and every negative from every shutter button you've pushed, not to mention hundreds of times more digital files, consider how great you'll feel when you've tossed the vast majority of stuff you'll never need to  confront again and now you have those memory banks and also those hard drives that you can fill up all over again.

I remember why photographers saved so much of their commercial work in the days before digital. They could (conceivably) sell it as stock photography. Many believed that their inventories of workaday Annual Report photos, and editorial work featuring garden homes and new recipes for spaghetti, would continue to sell and make them money. Now those endless boxes of slides are worth......?

Why? Because the digerati responded to their new found digital productivity by flooding the market with trillions and trillions of images. Most priced as close to free as one could possibly imagine.

Styles and looks change. Technology changes. Presentation changes. Not all the work we have should readily comes along for the change.

Worry smaller. Worry about the solid gold stuff. The universe will take care (destroy) the rest of it and you may be better off for it in the long run. I know your survivors, for the most part, will.


Gato said...

Last night I left a note on my desk: "Clean the hard drive." It's time to get last year's junk out of my computer, either into archive or gone forever.

I've said this before, but one of my luckiest days in photography was when a fire in my rental storage took out almost all of my old commercial negatives, slides and prints. I didn't realize it at first, but that got a small truckload of junk out of my life, stuff I would never care about.

The one thing that somehow survived undamaged was a cigar box of photos of family and friends from my college days. After the shock wore off I realized that was about the only thing in the whole mess I really cared about.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Exactly. Thanks Gato!

TMJ said...

And make sure that your important, personal, images are very easy to locate by whoever needs to find them after your demise: and don't let it contain 3 million images.......

(I did that after being mugged and seriously injured in London, 2016.)

atmtx said...

Sad but true.

BratPix said...

This post is a pure marvel.

Frank Grygier said...

I backed up my self-image somewhere.

George P. Hickey said...

I'm in my seventies and,a couple years ago was thinking about my work ending up in the trash after my death - see Vivian Meyer. After getting rid of my B&W darkroom and going digital I had stored boxes of negatives and prints in my closet that documented street protests in Seattle over a ten year period. I had no real use for them so I offered them to the Washington State Historical Society. They thanked me for the donation, held a news conference, exhibited 80 of my prints over a two month period,and I gave a gallery talk about the work. Sort of a last hurrah. I now have space in my closet and the work is preserved and will be of future use to researchers and maybe in a hundred years another exhibit.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

A cool counterpoint to my blogpost. Nice. And congratulations. KT

EdB said...

Well said Kirk. I'm downsizing in anticipation of semi-retirement (I'm a couple of years older than you) and couldn't agree with you more about commercial work. I started in 1975 and had amassed an enormous amount of..... images. Dreck to be honest. Most of it is now in the county landfill. There really is no reason to save those corporate portraits and product shots. The digital stuff in the cloud will get culled when I've time or when whomever comes after me pulls the plug on the cloud by not paying the bill. Easy peasy once you get rolling.Ditto for film cameras (and strobes are for all intents and purposes scrap metal unless they're Profoto)- its amazing how attached you can get to the darn things though. I can tell you where every scratch on my Linhof Master Tech came from and how hard I worked and saved for that case of lenses, never mind the Hasselblad's and Sinars. Well, Sic Tansit, it actually feels good to pare the cabinet down to just the working gear now.


Phil Stiles said...

A great post, Kirk, one of your best! I'm also in my seventies, and have been shooting all my life. I've decided that I should go through the archive and scan what has merit, then make a few books. The books could also be available online. Then I can die knowing that the cream has been been skimmed from that heap that will go to the dump. Thanks for a needed nudge!

MO said...

hi kirk

I deliver my photos through google photos as a side effect they get saved. I don't keep anything else on multiple storages anywhere else for more than a year except form my most treasured raw files. all my jobs and my family keepers are uploaded to google photos with googles own compression. where there ceo to clean out google fotos all the compressed files on my google photos over a lifetime would fit in to 1tb of flash storage. both personal and jobs. 1 tb flash Hd is my only backup other than the google photos.

99,9 % of my clients find the google compression sufficient. I challenge everyone to find a easier way to deliver and storage photos in one workflow.

i 100% agree on this and your last post on the subject. but i still find google photos to be the easiest way to deliver my images even if it didn't include a way to back up the photos at the same time.

None of my clients clients need better files and the back service cost me nothing. I still only promise a year of security. but they might get a lifetime.

cheers mads