BitDepth 807 - November 08

Preserving photographs occupied the discussions among photographers young and old on the panel discussions at PhotoPlus Expo in New York this year.
Preserving images
Celebrity photographer Douglas Kirkland speaks at Photoplus Expo 2011. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

Video might have been the star of the show at the 2011 PhotoPlus Expo in New York this year, but coming in hard on its heels were vendors keen to promote the preservation of that work for the ages.
PhotoPlus has always had a heavy contingent of online book publishers on its show floor, and that makes sense, because this is an opportunity for photographers to get a feel of the publication quality that exists in this highly competitive market.

There are book publishers who support low volume runs of photography art books and portfolios like Blurb and many more businesses who create the kind of hefty, lavish and often grotesquely ornate bound albums of photographs that wedding photographers offer their clients these days.
The mechanics of the process are simple enough. Move your data into safe harbour, whether it be high quality publications or onto more robust data storage.

Curiously enough, there wasn’t an optical disk for sale or offered as a solution to be found anywhere on the show floor.
The buzz from vendors like Wiebetech, Drobo and Sandisk, who introduced a flash memory based “vault” for data said to be tested stable for 100 years, was redundancy, durability and RAID as these produces were evangelised to customers eager to find the holy grail of digital preservation.

Retrieval, the other critical axis of high-volume digital storage, wasn’t quite so enthusiastically promoted. A test version of my favorite image browser, Photo Mechanic, sported a more modern interface and a new SQL based catalog system, but the landscape for this critical aspect of the photographic workflow remains disturbingly barren.

I lucked into a short chat with Peter Krogh, author of The DAM Book, essentially the bible of digital asset management, and asked his thoughts on the state of play. His summary pretty much aligned with my own impressions of the situation. Extensis’ Portfolio has quietly fallen off the table, at least for photographers, Phase One is working on the excellent Media Pro but it’s not the company’s key priority, and Camera Bits has a fair bit of work to do still on Photo Mechanic.

In his enthusiastic keynote on his career, Douglas Kirkland emphasised during a talk about a recent book of photographs of Coco Chanel, “preserve your work.”
“You have no idea when that material will be used.”

The Chanel photography was done when Kirkland was 27, and he had an opportunity to photograph the fashion legend for three weeks.
“I learned that lesson from (Irving) Penn,” Kirkland noted, going on to note that Penn also told him to forget New York and go back home to Buffalo to open a little studio.

The Chanel work was shot for Look, and when the magazine decided to close down, photographers had a week to choose the work they wanted to keep before the library of images would be donated to the Library of Congress to earn a large tax writeoff.
Fortunately for Kirkland, a surprisingly generous codicil in the agreement allowed Look’s photographers free access to their material after the transfer.

Able to request his old photographs, Kirkland is now an enthusiastic supporter of the capabilities of digital, which he used to restore images from the Chanel shoot that exceeded the limits of darkroom technologies.
“I like the books I’m doing now more than the earlier ones,” Kirkland told the appreciative audience.

Related posts from PhotoPlus 2011...
BitDepth#806, DSLR video
Jack Hollingsworth seminar notes
Art Strieber seminar notes
Creative longevity seminar notes
Blake Discher seminar notes
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