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October 2016

Investing in the Past: What is Safe Storage in the Digital Age? What is Preservation of a Legacy?

Reviewing all the images that I've kept since about 1971 has been challenging. 
The decision to spend time going through box after box of prints and slides to find the best originals means that I am investing time and money in the past rather than creating new work of the future. At the same time, I am both excited about enabling the sharing of the vast quantity of images not shown in years, and disappointed that this doesn't feel noble, productive or creative. 

There were lots of comments about the previous post regarding advice for keeping a responsible archive of images of past works. The decisions take into account a variety of factors.

Here are some of the highlights:   

Archival_Methods_35mm_Slide_Storage_System_07_02_mMy primary recommendation is to use archival boxes for storage.  I have been using these slide boxes for years. All of the slides stored in these boxes look fine.  Steel slide cabinets were great but they took up too much space, so the archival boxes are my choice. 

I am also storing the single remaining copy of my black & white prints, negatives and color transparencies in similar archival boxes.  This is following the advice of the National Archives which stores important content for the federal government.  Click here for recommendations for the National Archive. 

A number of comments suggested storing slides in plastic sheets.  I am NOT going to recommend this approach. While some plastic sheets claim that they are designed for archival use, I just don't trust plastic.  Many plastics out-gas and at this point I can't distinguish the so-called "safe" archival plastic sheets from those that are not safe. The plastic sheets restrict air circulation. The National Archives says:  "Older plastic or paper enclosures which came from the photo lab may not be safe for long term storage." 

What is Long Term Storage in the Digital Age?

You can never be certain.  I look back at the way information storage and sharing has changed in the past 20 years and the pace at which technology is accelerating. 

Here is a very real example.

Zip-drive-dicsDo any of you remember ZIP Drives?  I have one digital image on Zip Drive that I cannot access now. How ironic!? I made a 9'x 9' wall quilt and it was difficult to photograph because of its size. The image data was also huge, so at the time, a ZIP disc was the answer. A short lived answer.  Within two years, ZIP was out. No ZIP, and now, no original image available. Nos it is another time consuming hurdle and expense for archiving the original. 

Get this for further irony.  At the time, the image data for the large wall quilt was so big, I didn't even dare to put it on the hard drive of my desktop computer. A 32 MB image would have been half the hard drive at the time. [Please stop laughing now.] 

OK. that was one example, but there are more. Do you remember floppy drives? Another technology that none of us uses any more.  But they were handy and convenient at the time. Thank goodness my images are currently on CD's and DVD's -- but, shocking as it sounds, how many of you have a computer without a CD/DVD drive?   How long will it be till, I won't be able to buy an external drive to read the discs?  "Paranoia strikes deep."*  

For the long term I am trying to think about "What is safe?"  "What will be accessible into the future?"

Backyard-open-spacePart of my thinking to purge the slides was that they weren't safe enough. They were the physical copy of the image. They may have even been the original, quality image, but they too were vulnerable to damage from dust, mildew, a fire or earthquake. None of this is planned.  Fire is a reality in everybody's house. I live in California near open space at the end of a canyon. Where I live, fire and earthquakes are a potential reality, but every location, no matter where you live, has its vulnerabilities. Haven't we just heard about hurricanes, and floods in the news?

My goal is to have multiple platforms. 

So, for now, this is my plan. I am keeping:

  • one original slide. (Perhaps I should have kept two? Too late.)
  • scanning the one best original slide for a digital record - (more information later)
  • one black & white original photo
  • all negatives for the film/print images.
  • all my transparencies 2" and 4"x5"
  • one print copy of catalogs, postcards, and documentation of past exhibitions.
  • digital copies of images will be uploaded to my computer, external harddrive and Carbonite for back up.
  • eventually, I hope to add a larger variety of images  and documentation to my website, but even that can't hold everything.   
  • All my sketch books starting from 1970 have been kept and stored.

Is that enough? Is that responsible? Each of us has to make our own decisions.

Is there any answer that I haven't considered?  What are you doing with your images? Your past inventory records. Your old catalogs?  I'd like to know. This  is important information to share.

Future posts will provide more information on protecting and archiving your records.

I just sent my first 1000 slides for scanning and will let you know how this ScanCafe test group turns out. At .27 cents per slide, it still adds up to $300 investment. That is not chump change when I have 1,000's of slides yet to go! 


This post was updated on December 13th, 2021.

*Paranoia Strikes Deep is from the song lyrics of Buffalo Springfield song "For What's It's Worth"
"Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you're always afraid.."


A Painful Purge and the Legacy Costs of Information

legacy costs of information
A legacy of information! 
I'm going through all my color slides….and black & white photos.  Thousands of images and thousands more duplicates.  A legacy of my entire career.


And throwing it all away.  Obsolete media.

 All my original images will be digital from here on.

n looking through 40+ years of accumulated physical images, I am reminded of the history and optimism anticipated in each and every image that is going into the trash.  As an artist I adored the quality of the images and took pride in being prepared when needed.  It was a badge of honor at a professional level. I remember the care and investment of time and money that went into the composition, processing, selection, cataloging, storing, organizing, and maintaining these visual manifestations of my craft skill and artistic vision. Now I am taking these beloved slides and photos out of their neat and tidy boxes, taking careful inventory to keep one, just one copy of the best image,  and dumping the rest into the dumpster.


I feel remorse in the wasted materials.
I feel guilt in generating such waste.
  This is a painful purge.

But the physical media has become a burden.  

IMG_20161002_182304915_HDRFortunately, the "information" of these images will live on when converted to digital media.   My daughter helped me realize that companies large and small deal with this legacy cost" all the time. They have archives of information that could be valuable to current or future users.  Information companies like Weather Underground choose to preserve past weather information and make it accessible on their website. They realize that the history of weather information is valuable, but stored data must also be compatible with newer digital interfaces.  Researchers using newer or different platforms need the archived information to be compatible to gain the benefits of analyzing long term trends over decades of accumulated information in ways that were not previously possible.  

purging a legacy of information in slide imagesArtists also may have a legacy of information or objects.  At what point does old work become out dated inventory?

I look at it differently. Old work has potential in future exhibition opportunities. It could even be my retirement income as I have witnessed in the revival of interest in mid-century modern jewelry. Important painters often kept their best work increased in value.

Museums are the consummate examples of legacy information and the costs of maintaining archives.   They store objects and information indefinitely with the expectation that value will be realized well into the future.

Misbehaving EconomicsWhy did I finally decide to throw away all these slides and photos?
  I was reading a book about behavioral economics … “Misbehaving - The Making of Behavioral Economics"  by Richard Thaler.  The book discusses a relatively new field in economics observing how many financial decisions are not made on a purely rational basis.  

Black-white-photos-legacy-informationOne financial concept struck home for me - "sunk costs."  The book made clear that my slides and photos that are no longer in a useful form (and all the time and money I invested in them) are "sunk costs."  Keeping them any longer would just cost more storage expense. Businesses often describe this storage expense as  "carrying cost" or inventory cost.  However, if the images (or any other inventory items) are not or cannot be used any longer, they have no current or future value.  To use up storage space in my cramped studio is just more wasted money.  

Vertical-quantity-of-images-informationEvery artist and maker has legacy information in their older work that represents their career and their credibility. The construction of my new website caused me to re-examine how I needed to make my images (my "information") more accessible for current and future use.   In the past three weeks, I have invested a great deal of time to find one, just one best copy of each image to digitize for the future.

I see my new website as a new and more accessible form of my work -- a new catalog that enables more people to more easily access my images and for me to connect with more opportunities.  I look forward to adding images to my website that were not digital. Images of inspiration and work in progress could be interesting to a wider audience.

I took great professional pride in my inventory of slides and black & white photos  to be ready for opportunities.  Now the ongoing value of my "information" (the intrinsic substance of my images) through this new digital media greatly expands how I can gain the attention of others and be prepared for many more opportunities.  My new website is adaptive to phones, tablets and computers.  Using a template site (which I resisted for years) means that it will be a stable format for further changes in technology.

Website-2016Despite my acute awareness of my past investments, I see this transition as a revitalization of my legacy information.
  Take a moment to look at my new website.  Critique the content.  Find mistakes.  Bookmark it for later updates. Lots more information is coming in future months. This is a work in progress, a new future, a new  year.


 This post was updated on December 13th, 2021.