Archiving Digital: What the Hell am I Going to Do?
I need your help. I have no idea what to do.
Sitting at home with my wife. We are both in the office. I look over and see my Firmtek SATA drive system I use to backup my wealth of digital files. Staring at this machine I realize I’ve had it in play for at least five years, probably closer to seven or eight. A two-bay system partnered with matching sets of 2 terabyte drives and coupled to a Mac Pro tower of the same age. At one point a state-of-the-art system. But now?
“Man, I need to transfer all that data,” I said to my wife. “How are you going to do that?” she asked. I sat wondering, thinking for a brief second that this little issue was no big deal. I figured something would pop into my mind. A mega-drive? A cloud solution? Something. Anything. “I have no idea,” I answered. “I actually have no f%$#$%$ idea.”
Days go by. A friend faced with a similar situation plugs in a drive from 2005. Dead. Tries another from 2007. Dead. Pays for salvation, but is only partially saved.
An event in LA. Filled with high-end still shooters and filmmakers. I begin my informal survey. “No idea,” is the answer I get. “Well, how are you doing it?” Each and every person has a different solution, each as flawed as the next. There are admissions of guilt. Lost images. Lack of concern with anything really lasting over time. The changing face of archiving and even how it’s viewed by the generations. What there isn’t is an answer. Not blaming these folks. We are all in the same sinking ship, but that does not change the reality that I need a solution. A few feel offended by the question, quickly offering the standard “Just use the cloud,” answer, but when I explain the AMOUNT of data I have they look confused, guilty even and walk off. (This has been happening since about 2002.)
Yes, the amount of data. You see I’ve been doing this for quite some time. I’ve been shooting jobs for clients, since the late 1990’s, and having to reflect on this gave me even greater fear. Yes, fear. You see the SATA solution is the least of my issues. There was digital life before the Mac Pro and SATA were a reality. Long before. I have boxes, crates, stacks of 4x DVD’s burned in triplicate from hundreds of prior jobs. Even years ago, a short time after these jobs were completed and burned, which is what EVERYONE did at the time, these discs were already beginning to fail. Yes, it’s true. Regardless of what the hype machine says about portable media. The idea of this being a long-term solution is a myth because the odds of finding a disc made of the right material, A PLAYER THAT IS MANUFACTURED AND SUPPORTED FOR MORE THAN A TEN YEAR PERIOD is also a myth. Just look at history. Kodak Photo CD anyone? Laser CD anyone? 4x DVD anyone? All of these portable media platforms were undone by the parts surrounding them. Great, you have a disc made of gold, awesome, but what about the player? Who makes it? How are they doing? Where will THEY be in five years? Ten?
It gets worse. Lets’ say I have 50 terabytes of data, which is not a stretch. Remember, I’m not a “Just save the JPG” guy. No, I need/want those RAW files. My cabinet is FULL of drives, and then I have all those discs, at least the ones that still work. How would I even begin to get that on a cloud and how much would that cost? How many years would it take to upload to the cloud? And is the cloud really responsible for my work? Ever read the service agreement from online services? Typically within the first page you are signing something agreeing to the fact they are not responsible for your data. Okay……….
So what if a mega drive exists? How great would it be if I could go buy a 50-terabyte drive, times three, and just slowly migrate all my data to those and let them sit? What do I do in five years? Ten? I do it all over again. All of you should know, whatever you create with digital today you will be handling and migrating for the rest of your life, on about this same schedule I’m guessing.
This is NOT a popular topic. In fact through the years when I’ve brought up these questions at industry events I’m met with anger, denial and defensiveness. “What are you going to do?” people ask. “Just keep buying drives.” “Hard drives are cheap now.” Jesus, is THIS really the solution we need? Why does our industry spend the bulk of their time and revenue on promoting the FRONT end of photography while ignoring the back end?
And here is the final reality. I’m getting off easy. I’ve been shooting film, at least in part, all these years. How about you guys and gals shooting all digital and compiling even more data than me? I’ve been to some of your studios. I’ve seen the daisy chain of drives. I’ve seen the fans blowing to keep things cool. I’ve heard the anger from lost drives, images and any hope of salvation. I’ve even seen this digital frailty change your mentality. I’ve seen the client contracts about NOT being responsible for their work, for their archive, for their history. Sound familiar?
So I sit here today no further along than I was a week ago. What to do? My 50 terabytes. Heck, even if I had 20 terabytes, what difference does it really make. This problem is snowballing every single moment of every single day. My industry says “Someone will figure something out,” while they promote the seventeen new cameras….from this week.
We live in a time when I’ve been accused of being egotistical because I’m even THINKING of making an archive. Yes, true story. Well people I could give a s%$# about the now. I don’t care about the now because so few people are actually paying attention. I AM interested in the future, the distant future, but I’m realizing the reality may be that NOTHING I create digitally will be around.
Just so you know, this is NOT the first time I’ve made this inquiry. Back in the early 2000’s I knew I had the same problem and I spent one year researching, asking “experts” at archiving houses what they were doing and I received the EXACT same answers I’m hearing today. “We don’t know.” “We don’t throw away ANY equipment and we can’t fire anyone who knows how these old machines work.” “Don’t worry about it, someone will figure something out.” I wish this was a sad dream, but it’s not. I know for a fact a lot of those around me have already come to terms with NOT having anything more than a few images left over. I think we are all so overloaded by imagery and the disease of social media that it has someone allowed people to think, “Well, I can see these things in social so even if I don’t have these images any longer, there is NO WAY I can remove it from social,” and because of this digital Coolaid their fate is sealed.
This is a REST OF MY LIFE situation people. And yes, I know you can say “Well, things could go wrong with film.” True. Fire, flood, etc. Exactly. But Jesus, I’ll take my chances with that over realizing every five years for the rest of my life I’m going to have to figure out a way to migrate my entire digital archive. That is just plain depressing.
If ANYONE has a solution I would love to hear it. But if you are going to say “use the cloud,” or “just keep buying drives,” then save your energy. I’ve heard it all before.