My photo archive system: an intro



Once in a while I should write about some tech stuff... and what other topic than the one that us visual artists care most about: our archives, and by extension, our photo archive system...

Many articles on the web about this, but I've always felt that they assume incorrect things. Obviously I don't want to go as far as being safe for Extinction Events, or being able to administer my archive on my 1987 Nokia phone... let's say that I stay within certain limits of reason/feasibility, given the fact that I'm a one-man operation. I guess I'm writing this as much for myself as for others :-)

So what do I want to achieve? I want, once and for all, peace in my mind as to the archive of my images, videos, designs and products (magazines, books, posters, etc) (all four of which exist in both analog and/or digital form): that they are secured and controlled accessible.

I want this to be the case for past work, and "live" work that I am doing right now (because of the long term projects I'm involved in). And obviously I want to be able to add future projects.

For that, I have sketched out an archive system, both digital and analog, both online and offline, both home and somewhere else. I believe that this combination offers me the greatest flexibility in working, security for my archived work, and accessibility for others involved. As always, it is a combination of things, tailored precisely to the kind of person I am and the knowledge I possess.

It is that archive system that I'll be describing here over a series of posts. This first article can serve as an introduction, touching base with different aspects with as much common sense as possible. These are (loosely) the topics that I'll dive into:

  • Description, purpose & terminology
  • Archive typology + relationships
  • File typology + relationships
  • Keywording + IPTC meta data
  • File naming + Folder structure

Note the above should work for digital as well as analog: go ahead, read the above topics again, while thinking of film or original prints in a fireproof cabinet of sorts.

I'm not intending to get into debates which technology is best, or which system is better: yes, of course online storage is only 99.99% secure, of course buying all hard disks from the same brand is slightly more risky, of course we don't really know (yet) if archival quality ink jet prints actually will last 100+ years. And the list goes on. My main point here is: if I make a good combination of all these "ninety-nine percents", and then relate them to my particular situation, and given the fact I can tweak along the way by adding or changing parts, then i will de facto achieve my optimal "mix".

Important is that I believe that every archive system should be tailored towards the particular situation of every photographer... Many photographers will have different particulars.... Mine are as follows:

  • I travel a lot
  • I own a house
  • I know technology
  • I use a laptop + external disks for at least part of the process
  • I create digital (images, video, design, text) and analog (images, video, design, text) content, often mixed
  • I work with "stories", "projects" and "products"
  • I have limited time
  • I'm not rich :-/

Here is an abstract description of what my archive could be, given the above particulars:

My work is stored across several archives that differ according to type, format, location and accessibility. Every archive contains a number of files that each have a floating status, format, type, date and a fixed identifier.

What is the reason that I even have an archive in the first place?

The purpose of my archive is to offer security for the original files and master files, workability for the edit files, and accessibility for the copy files.

OK that was the hardest part.... really. To be able to describe in abstract terms, means you have to have thought this through and tested it all the way to the end: the above description and the purpose were the last things that I distilled after sketching and testing the whole system.

Again, this description or purpose can be very different for others... this is just what I feel is optimal for the way I live, the way I work, and the way I do business.

So now an explanation of the terms used above. Again, I cannot stress enough to think both digital AND analog.

Archive Type: On one side we have an EDIT and a DEF archive, on the other side we have a LIVE archive, a BACKUP archive, or a VAULT archive. More about this terminology later, but both the EDIT archive and the DEF archive are live, backed up, and vaulted.

Archive Format: Digital format (HDD, memory card, optical media,...) or Analog format (acid free box with images, filing cabinet, folder,...)

Archive Location: The physical location of the archive

Archive Accessibility: How can the archive be accessed: secured physically, digitally, location, connected to power, connected to internet....

File Status: Original (singular), Edit (work in progress), Master (edition, multiple), Version (connected to job/story/project)

File Type: Digital, Print, Film or Tape

File Format: Digital formats (DNG-RAW-PSD-TIF-JPG || MOV-AIFF-MP3 || TXT-INDD-AI-PDF || etc...) and Analog formats (paper type, film type, chemical type, ink type, press type...)

File Date: Creation date of the Master File (or Original File, if it is the Original File)

File Identifier: A unique serial number

Security: Protection against loss/damage/theft

Workability: Optimal circumstance to be able to work with the archive and its files, depending on the situation

Accessibility: Levels of accessibility by myself vs. other people (physical and virtual)

Floating: can change over time until a Master or a Version is reached

Fixed: Does not change after original creation date

Phew. Enough already... Next time more in detail about archive type, format, location and accessibility.

An interesting footnote: Getting this solution op and running will need an initial investment of max $5,ooo (hardware, software, online storage), and 6 months of work (given the fact that I keep on working my projects as I usually do). It seems like a lot of trouble, but once up and running, this can all be integrated into my standard workflow without extra time needed for future projects, and an annual cost of less than $1,000 (mainly projected estimates of buying hardware and sofware updates and paying for online storage).

The hardest part, as usual, is consistently keywording and captioning works. Don't we all hate doing that one....