Happy snaps

I have just studied the subject Creating and Preserving Digital Content through Charles Sturt University for the successful completion of the Master of Information Studies. And it has got me thinking….

All of those family photos held in a variety of forms in a variety of containers need some sorting. There are old printed photographs in photo albums and in boxes. There are digital photographs that reside in cameras, phones, devices, SD cards, CD’s, and computers. There are digital copies of photos sitting in random digital file folders on computers. And we keep producing more each day adding to the digital heap.

So now I know how to go about organising all of this stuff, I need the time to actually sit down and apply myself to the mammoth task of sorting it out.

Once I comprehend the enormity of the task I begin to ask myself – why? For what purpose? Who cares? How many photographs of wind-swept beach scenes are too many?

Then there is the question of the integrity of the captured image: if a filter is applied to an image from a Smartphone app then this should be noted in the metadata or description. But that adds another level of tedium to the task, and yet if it is not done then what does that say about the authenticity of the resulting image. Is it then art or photography? Or both?

The notion of transience emerges too when considering the purpose of such an exercise. With ease and speed of connected social media channels through smart devices, a photo shared across networks among friends and family is enjoyed for the moment, in the context of that moment, and then swept into the ever-moving stream of data creation. Sure it is still ‘there’ somewhere in the digital ether, waiting to be retrieved for future embarrassment; like a baby photo shown by smirking parents at their child’s 21st birthday party. Other than for nostalgic amusement, is there value in spending so much time and effort in sorting out the family photos for ‘the future’?

I can hear the archivists and historians stirring on their leather chairs, leaning forward, fingers cracking, ready to post a heart-felt reply. I welcome it because I need a good reason to justify this effort.

The term ‘digital dark age’ was used in Creating and Preserving Digital Content to illustrate a possible scenario where data is lost through poor preservation techniques. I get it. I wrote an essay about it, elaborately describing the scenes from the original movie version of The Time Machine, where the vacuous stares of the future Eloi people are the result of lost knowledge from crumbling pages in books left to decay.

I appreciate the words of former Prime Minister Harold Holt at the Stone Ceremony March in 1966:

We cannot understand the present or plan for the future without the knowledge of the past.

danielle_susan_margaret_alice_1984And yet significant family portraits containing four females spanning four generations might be worthy of preservation for sharing amongst immediate and future family members, but how many “selfie’s” must we have to delete before we gain a representative portrait of one individual.

My thoughts are a jumble between process, content, and value. The process is complex and needs to be worked out to establish some kind of system that works and fulfills preservation standards. The content contains so many variables and raises questions about authenticity. The value is difficult to judge because it is not easy to project into the minds of some future person and decide if this image is worth the effort of the time invested in preserving it.

This article about one family’s preservation project describes some of these issues with a heart-warming narrative and a positive outcome, but concluding that it is “never done.”

My aim is to begin. I have the relevant information about how to approach the task. I have a large external hard-drive. I will gather the photos in all forms. I will start sorting, naming, describing, storing, backing-up, and hopefully one day in the future I will have some kind of result that’s purpose will be apparent.

In the words of Francis Kilvert, as quoted from this article: Digital Curation and the Citizen Archivist by Richard Cox:

Why do I keep this voluminous journal? I can hardly tell. Partly because life appears to me such a curious and wonderful thing that it almost seems a pity that even such a humble and uneventful life as mine should pass altogether away without some record such as this.

Cox, R. J. (2009). Digital Curation and the Citizen Archivist. Digital Curation: Practice, Promises & Prospects. pp. 102-109. http://d-scholarship.pitt.edu/2692/

Treasured memories

If you are old enough to remember what life was like before digital photography you will remember: buying rolls of film for your camera; being limited to the number of shots on the film; not being able to delete any bad ones; taking the film to a shop to get developed; waiting a few days before collecting them; looking through the pack in anticipation; throwing out the blurred shots; putting the good ones into a photo album; maybe getting slides made; then boring family and friends with slide nights or photo albums. Then the albums yellowing and gathering dust on the shelf. Remember that?


Digital photography has revolutionised the way we capture images of our lives and then share and preserve these images and treasured memories. Now we can click like there is no tomorrow. We can delete any bad ones as they occur. We can take hundreds and thousands of photos.

How do you organise your photos? Chronologically? In arbitrarily named subject folders? Saved to CD or external hard drive? We all need a management software system to manage our files of photos. We all need to have the organisational skills of librarians to make sense of our systems. And it all takes time.

My trip to Europe last year produced 2000 digital images on two cameras. At home I had to sort, delete, label, save to CD, and this took me ages. I produced a digital photo story set to music then made into a DVD but I still haven’t had any images printed for a photo album or book.

Books of photo collections are all the rage now aren’t they? You can get these done at many shops, or online. You can choose the images, the layout, borders, etc and produce a professional looking coffee-table book. Cool! Printing photos for an album is still done but with the DIY systems everywhere you have to allow time to do this. But who does that anymore?

Photographic images have become transient. Who bothers to try to capture our memories anymore? Facebook and twitpics, make sharing images immediate and then forgotten. Google Earth/Maps, photo blogs like leavemehere, and Flickr provide meaningful structures that allow us all to benefit from the clicks we are all doing. It also provides us with feedback when others are enjoying our work.

I recently created a slideshow of my best photos that I had gathered over many years, and I put it onto Slideshare. It was not long before I was notified by Slideshare to tell me that this slideshow was featuring in the top 10 mentioned slideshares on twitter. After one month online it has had 338 views and 24 downloads with no promotion on my part. Another photo of mine of a place near Hobart in Tasmania was found on Flickr and added to Schmap with my permission. And it seems that this is not an uncommon occurrence. Read this by writingtravel.

There are still many people who do not understand the laws of copyright. There seems to be a misconception by some that if it is on Google it is free. Or if it is in the public domain it is free. This is wrong of course, and those who do want to illustrate their blogs with photos that they copy from the web can do so by using photos from a Free image archive like freeimages or freephotosbank or from the Creative Commons. Or try to contact the creator of the image and ask for their permission, like Schmap did with me. Or indeed create your own! Blog writers lose credibility if it is obvious that they are sourcing and using images without any attempt to cite the creator, and their blog loses its place in my full blog-reading schedule.

When you do place your images online you must not be naive enough to think that someone somewhere is not going to copy your lovingly created image and use it for their own ends. Hopefully they will be used for Good and not Bad. I have come across people in my work as a Librarian in public libraries who see nothing wrong with copying images from a Google Image search then printing them, making posters and selling them at local markets. Entrepreneurs yes – legal no. And it is disappointing for the creators of the original image to think that others are making money from their work and creativity.

What do you think?