After my last letter, where 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.
You may find it difficult to believe, but some experts believe 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. For the time being 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.
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 showed up on floppies after a few years, and apparently the same nonsense can appear on those precious discs.
Frost-free freezer archives
by Mark D. Gottsegen, Greensboro, NC, USA
The best current practice: Do all that you have suggested, and then back up the CDs from the original file every year. In addition, make hard copies of the images on the “best” current photo paper with the “best” ink matched to the paper, place the hard copies in a Mylar bag, put them in a frost-free freezer in the dark, and never take them out. It’s a good idea to have an uninterruptible power supply to the freezer, with a battery back-up.
Spreading your archives
by Joseph Jahn, Nibe, Denmark
I photograph each painting as a part of the end process, then place the final edited photo five places, three on the Internet ( Google, Flickr, Deviant Art), and two on two different hard drives. And two other sites on the Internet if it is a masterpiece (MYARTSPACE, ArtMesh). If Google or one of the other online storage possibilities starts to fail, simply move your work on to the next online company.
Ansel Adams’ newly discovered photos
by Sue Grace Talley, New York, NY, USA
Speaking of discovering lost or unknown images, there’s a new collection of Ansel Adams’ photographs preserved in the Smithsonian and is a carefully-worded but wonderful review of the World War II Japanese interment camp at Manzanar, California. The collection is full of Ansel Adams’ own text and photographs. I was not aware of this humanistic side of Adams and it is a reminder again that the “art spirit” is one that somehow illuminates the best of human values.
(RG note) Thanks, Sue. The collection, many of them cheerful portraits, can be found here.
by Casey Craig, Wimberley, TX, USA
I usually take a digital photo of my art for use on my website and emails that are in a jpeg format. I then take my favorite paintings to a photography lab and have them shoot a few 4×5 transparencies with a color and gray scale. That way, I am free to sell the originals without worrying if later I’ll need a hi-res image for printing or publishing. Transparencies can be scanned into whatever format is preferred by the publisher/printer. This is not as cheap as shooting your own digital images, but at least I don’t have to worry about the technology getting ahead of me and keeps me off the computer and in the studio.
by Layne Larsen, Kingston, ON, Canada
My digital camera has the capability to take TIFF images as well as the compressed JPEGs, so I archive the high-res TIFF files on CD-RWs then burn a duplicate CD-R which I store at my daughter’s house. Having used computers since the mid 1960s — and have had the misfortune to suffer from such things as disk crashes, lost data due to power surges and shutdowns, etc., I never store anything on my computer’s hard drive except application software which can be reloaded from the original disks. I even back up important e-mails and text files.
by Yaroslaw Rozputnyak, Moscow, Russia
TIFF and compressed TIFF give similar colour print, but PNG-format gives also similar print being less sized. JPG are dangerous thing for colour — to check its fullness is necessary each time when JPG is created. Any CD-DVD are plastic with entropy of amorphous body and nothing from organic is not so stable than inorganic, say I saw one ancient painting at copper plate — beautiful colours keeping and additionally going out light from copper through picture paint. Inorganic-based CDs are still a dream, but the dream also is limited — the ordinary glass is crystallized to non-transparent state after 5000 years.
by Robin Brooks
Please note that the PSD format for Photoshop is not intended as a format that is to be distributed. This is the “working” level of file that responds to many of the photoshop commands that do not work on “flattened” file types such as jpg. And while tiff files now allow layering, they are not the layering file type of choice except by people who do not know better. But you are right in that the PSD format from Kodak is now obsolete but can still be read by Photoshop because it is based on certain forms of file structure that will be around as long as we will be concerned about it.
Gold coated CDs
by Ion Danu
Heavy subject, digital archiving! I do this since 1998, when I’ve immigrated to Canada and I had to take with me at least the IMAGE of the family photos and, especially, the reproductions from my work… I came here with 2 CDs of scanned images — I still use from time to time. Here, in Canada, I’ve scanned and archived regularly my drawings and paintings (still do!) and yes, I had some troubles with file format and even with CD-s quality until I’ve learned, the hard way, that JPEG for instance is the best solution (TIFF can be tricky if you change from Mac to PC and vice versa). Concerning CD and DVD quality (I thought initially that a CD or DVD, no matter who the maker, could last for ever… not any more!) I have a friend in Alberta who wrote me about a Californian firm, DELKIN, which produces gold coated CDs and DVDs, archival quality, quaranteed 100 years… Of course, they are not cheap.
Portable hard drives as storage
by Dustin Curtis, Decatur, AL, USA
Take advantage of separate hard drives too. I just purchased a 350 gig portable hard drive for around $90. That’s not too bad for that much space. You can get them with much more space, if needed. I just hook up my USB cable and copy the images and files over. Nothing is 100% guaranteed and hard drives can crash, but I’ve got them on the separate hard drive, plus my main computers hard drive. I’m planning on doing a third backup, to another separate hard drive and storing it in a separate location. When you get upwards of 10 or 15 gigs of images and files, including digital photographs, it becomes less efficient to back up to discs or DVDs. By the way, the 350 gig hard drive is about the size of a 5″x7″ picture frame, not some big, clunky thing that takes up a lot of room.
Naming and backing up files
by Dwight Miller, Boone, NC, USA
At the very least, each file should have a meaningful name, as you suggest in your 1-25-08 release. However, that is just the start. From that point, each CD or DVD should have its own content log, something understood by the artist that can be printed and kept in a physical file folder or binder. It is far faster to read through a printed list of what’s on a CD or DVD than it is to search through each CD or DVD on the computer, no matter how fast that computer is. I would describe my own filing and logging process for the nearly 75,000 images that I’ve spent a lot of time culling, sorting, filing, backing up and cataloging. But I’m not certain how good my system is or how well it would apply to anyone else. To me, the most important thing is to use a system that each individual can find workable. I don’t use database management software. I use a word processor and simply write a table of contents for each disk (CD now, DVD soon).
Advice of a digital painter
by Jesse Silver, Burbank, CA, USA
I work in the entertainment industry as a matte painter, background painter and art director. Every painting I do these days is digital, whether done in Photoshop or Painter. I’ve been archiving materials for the last 15 years and can attest to the impermanence of various archiving media. Years ago we were advised to store onto magneto-optical discs as these had a lifespan of 75-100 years. However, this technology never really caught on, probably due to the expense of both the media and the players. I generally archive onto DVDs, because they’re readily available and cost effective. However, their lifespan is fairly short by archival standards, perhaps 10-15 years. I can’t say that I’m looking forward to re-burning several hundred DVDs. As to a bulletproof file format, there is none. Far from being coin of the realm, TIFF’s come in many types, some of them quite exotic. At Warner Brothers Animation, we were advised against using TIFFs for archiving. Rather, we used the TARGA format, which is about as close to coin of the realm as you’re likely to get. I archive in a variety of formats, much of it Photoshop because of the desire to save layered documents. Many applications don’t understand layered TIFFS, and TARGA is not a multilayered file format. While I archive everything, I only do multiple archive copies for core work. There’s just too much to save for possible reuse or revision to allow me the luxury of time to do multiple copies of everything. Frankly, traditional media will probably hold up much longer than digital, no matter what file format or storage is used. One thing is certain, archiving onto a magnetic hard drive is like playing Russian Roulette with all chambers loaded.
Problems with CDs
by Plamen Petkov, Las Vegas, NV, USA
I have had numerous DVDs and CDs going “bad” on me and being unreadable due to scratches. Plus, CDs tend to “rot” after a few years. So far the SONY CDs are the worst. The “rot” first appears at the inside edge of the CD and then slowly proceeds to eat up more and more of the CD. Sometimes the rot appears at the outer age, but most often it begins from the inside. I’d advise to forget CDs totally for archiving purposes. Plus CDs are too small anyway, only 700 MB’s. DVDs are the way to go but make sure to make at least a copy of the copy. And check them every year. Keep them in cool AND dark place. I’d advise to get a second hard drive (external) and copy your stuff there, daily. Second, I totally disagree with the file format suggested. To begin with, jpegs are compressed lossy format. They are the absolute WORST thing to save images in. TIFF is much better and the Photoshop format PSD is not lossy therefore you can make the image as big as you need. Don’t worry about PSD not being around in a few years, that’s just plain silly. Even if it isn’t, you can still use Photoshop to switch the format to something else.
Pretty funny stuff
by Peter Brown, Oakland, CA, USA
This talk of archiving is quite funny. It is funny because it moves in two directions at once. The cave art in France is 35,000 years old. It was made with charcoal and saliva. And, for you artists today, get a web page, just put it all out there. And, don’t underestimate the color copiers. Also, go to Kodak’s web page, or Snapfish. You can get a 20 page book of digital photos for about five bucks. And, truly, if you are worried about permanence, there is oil paint. Many of the first oil paintings are still looking good. At the end of this obsession with archiving is the fact that nothing is truly permanent. Permanence has nothing to do with making art. All pigments are fugitive. Even as all human beings are fugitive. Enjoy this moment. It is splendid. We cannot predict the future. Live for this minute in time. Make an image! If your image is memorable, it will be remembered.
Enjoy the past comments below for Digital archiving…
oil on panel, 40 x 48 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Jacqulynn Mulyk of Calgary, AB, Canada who wrote, “Before you pay for that archival documentation, ask yourself, ‘Is this one I want to be remembered by?’ If not, then why are you worried about archiving it?”
And also Mayanna Howard of Las Cruces, NM, USA who wrote, “I store all my images in jpeg format on flash drives. This gives me the freedom to put them back into the computer and maneuver them into another size, put them onto cards, etc.”
And also Anonymous who wrote, “In the digital age, a roll of 24 exposures would seem like an easy matter compared to the two to three hundred photos I bring home from a photo expedition these days. Alas, it’s a mixed blessing!”
And also Amy Leftoff of Roswell, GA, USA who wrote, “We, at Gallery Street, use a Betterlight ScanBack, which is the state of the art way to digitize paintings. We archive all of the files in 3 different locations as well as give our artists DVDs of their files.”
And also Joris Van Daele of London, ON, Canada who wrote, “One huge flaw of computer made CDs/DVDs is that they can be made unreadable in just a few of weeks if left in sunlight, and even faster in a hot car.”
And also David Burris who wrote, “I recommend using Delkin Devices Archival Gold CD-R (or an equiv. brand) to store your digital images. They are tested to have a shelf life of 300 years, unlike conventional CDs which can degrade after 5 to 6 years. It’s what I use and so far so good.”
And also Warren Criswell who wrote, “An amazing lost and found story similar to Andre Kertesz but concerning Robert Capa and demonstrating an early example of archiving is here.”