Digital archiving

Robert Genn

January 25, 2008

After my last letter, in which photographer Andre Kertesz lost
and later found his old negs, a pile of emails came in asking
for advice on digital archiving. "What technology, what
storage, what's best?" you asked. Others kindly offered their
own trusted systems. We've included some of these in the
current clickback. See URL below.

You may find it difficult to believe, but some experts think
the painting you're working on has a better chance of being
around a hundred years from now than a company like Kodak.
Cutting edge for more than a hundred years, in today's
bankruptcy and takeover times, Kodak may be as ephemeral as the
stuff they sell. When you add relative startups like Picasa and
Flickr, the future of archiving may be even more shaky.
Paintings are carried out of burning buildings. Equipment and
software go up with the Scrabble set.

Not only that, technologies become obsolete, these days faster
than ever. Floppies and tapes have already gone the way of the
dodo. Flash and external drives may not be far behind. "You
have to stay ahead of the obsolescence curve," says Carmi Levy,
vice-president of Toronto-based technology consultancy AR
Communications. He recommends DVDs and, to a lesser extent,
CDs. Ideally, you'd have a disc in the studio, one in a
fire-proof safe, and another at Grandma's house or in a museum
or university.

It seems that burning discs is the answer for today as well as
insurance for tomorrow. Levy recommends using universal TIFF or
JPEG formats. "While proprietary formats such as Adobe
Photoshop's PSD may be popular today," says Levy, "they are
riskier, because they can't be read by other software and are
controlled by a vendor who may change the format or not even be
around in the future."

Unfortunately, artists who might someday publish or print need
a larger format, "high res" material often based on "raw"
imagery. This means fewer images per disc--so more discs than
ever. Another thing: you need searchable keys and labels, just
like Grandma used to do in her old album: "This is me with
Dad's new car, June, 1, 1931, Elk Lake." Giving your images the
old "what, when, where, why and how" makes archiving a joy for
now and gives value for future generations. Much better than a
jumble of unidentified images rattling around somewhere on an
obsolete laptop. 

Best regards,


PS: "You need to schedule a process every few years to move
your pics onto whatever technology is currently mainstream--to
ensure they aren't marooned on obsolete media." (Carmi Levy)

Esoterica: Some experts prefer CDs over DVDs, and recommend the
better-known premium brands. Also, be careful to store them
away from other electronic devices, moisture and heat, and
check them every few years for signs of degradation. Most of us
are familiar with the gobbledygook that shows up on floppies
after a few years, apparently the same nonsense can appear on
those precious discs.