Archiving Digital: An Update

Yes, two posts in the same day. Not common here at the old ranch, but the number of emails I received, and IM’s and the like were enough to prompt me to add some updates.

1. I overestimated my data archive. I thought it was 50 TB, but it’s actually a little more than 40TB. But here is the thing. I’m not a heavy shooter, so I have a sinking suspicion that many others out there have FAR larger reserves than I. My archive contains the RAW files, subset folders of JPGs in varying size. In some cases TIFF or DNG, but not always. 14 sets of 2TB, Firmtek, two internal drives when combined add up to 30 TB. Six more of portables and this does not include my entire supply of 4x DVD’s. Or my film scans, not that those are essential to have in digital form, only convenient. I’m guessing the grand take is little over 40TB.

2. These were JOBS. These images are not things I feel good about throwing away. Now, anyone who, like me, came up in the film era, shudders when we hear “Throw away,” but let me tell you it is commonplace in the digital age. I know because people have been emailing me and telling me. When I first did my research back in 2002 timeframe I spoke to many different photographers who had already come to grips with losing their archive. Many seemed totally okay with it because they knew they didn’t have it in them to migrate with time and technology, something I’m REALLY feeling today. Now, the worst offenders were wire service shooters who were shooting jobs, erasing cards in the field and starting anew, ONLY saving the one or two images they transmitted. I get it. It sucks but it’s true. Each genre offers different challenges.

3. There ARE people with a plan and with savvy. I don’t know this person personally, but they were kind enough to message me with all kinds of pertinent information, and the’ve been on plan for many years. You are a RARITY my online friend at least in my experience. RW Boyer Design/Photo.

4. I don’t have it in me to migrate with time and technology, which means I’m coming to grips with losing everything that remains on portable media. Not the drive based work, but the rest of it will probably not survive. I can’t even fathom sitting down, or paying someone else, to sit down and load up my DVD’s, one at a time, and transfer that data. Talk about time and money. Only to have to migrate another 4 years later. There is certainly nothing wrong with doing this, heck I encourage you to, but knowing what I have gone on, and the limited time I have to get to it…never gonna happen.

5. This is my problem whether or not I ever shoot another frame of digital ever again. This 40TB ain’t going away. I’m sure my mega-drive is around the corner, and maybe I want till it’s here before I make a move. All 40TB on three redundant drives, then wait four years and do it again. THAT I can probably handle. Probably.

6. Unfortunately I do know people in motion, and in Hollywood, and I have heard THEIR horror stories too. Just so you know, I recently attended an awards show for motion and stills. One of the winning filmmakers got up in front of the crowd and said “Thank you for the award, but just do you know, my first and second films are gone.” “Entirely gone.” Her latest film, the award winner, had been archived by one of the major archiving houses here in the US. Also spoke to one of the archive and color houses in Los Angeles. Their guy said “There is no budget for archiving so we are throwing films away.” Not all obviously but more than you would imagine.

I know that regardless of what I say here little will change. As long as you can go to a box warehouse and buy a cheap, portable drive people will just say “What are you gonna do?” I get it. I for one am not happy with that. I love film for a bevy of reasons, but I know it’s not for most. Also, the comments section of my original post has some good information as well. Thanks to those of you who took time to write in. Much appreciated.

Archiving Digital: What the Hell am I Going to Do?

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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.

RIP x100s

Well, the experiment with digital is now over. Not by choice mind you, but butterfingers here dropped his brand new Fuji x100s. It still works, but for how long, not so sure. I thought it was okay but upon removing the filter and hood the front element nearly fell off entirely. I pushed it back in, put the filter and hood on and lit a candle in honor of our time together.

Photo on 5-20-13 at 9.48 AM

The reality is I don’t have time for digital photography, at least not when working on a trip like this. No time for download, edit, tweak and convert files when I’m running on a few hours of sleep while on the perpetual go. It sounds crazy but it is the truth. The ONLY way to work is with a phone, which I can use to shoot and upload on the spot. I’m not a huge fan of working with a phone but at this point not sure there is anyway around it. In keeping with my f****** horrible luck with technology, the Aussie cell phone I purchased is also on the blink. Did I mention my Lightroom imploded as well? I’ll not even bother to explain that, but a local LR person helped me reinstall and start the great process over again. Oh, the card slot on my laptop…that doesn’t work either. FYI

There are certain undeniable signs in life, and I’ve been doing my best to try and ignore the one in regard to me working digitally. At this point I have to say, it wasn’t meant to be. I love my film cameras, their incredible performance, and the reality that I like to deal with my work on a slower pace, on my own time, and in a more tactile way. Yes they are bulkier, heavier and require the subsequent bag-o-film but the reward, at least for me, is just too strong. Not that ANY of this matters to any of you.

I envy my digital loving friends and am not in ANY way casting a negative vibe towards ANYTHING in the tech or digital world. I’m only turned on by happy photographers, and whatever makes you happy is what makes me happy. I feel horrible for my friends at Fuji. This is an impressive little beast, but one I managed to slay before the relationship really began.

Blurb Australia: More Street Photo Shenanigans

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I’m not a good tourist. I feel like I need a reason, a purpose, a focal point or point of contention. Internal unrest, mental not physical, at least for now. Forcing myself forward, step by step, ignoring certain things, certain people and fixating on others until they feel my need and it all goes away. Why would you walk with a lens cap on? After all these years I’m not sure. Like an infantryman carrying his rifle with a pool cue in the barrel. Makes it somewhat difficult to achieve the desired result and yet there these mysterious creatures are.
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Something unfamiliar in my hand, but I’m working on that. Like new shoes I feel the visual blister forming. It demands it’s own dialogue. I can’t speak to it in the same language I normally use. Clarity from the clutter is more difficult with the little beast, so I need to change the way I see, the way I layer and the way I look for light.
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I break things into mental quarters to give myself a helping hand. “In the end..the machines always win.” Yes, true but as humans we all want to fight the good fight. A guy blows $400(Australian) on a slot machine next to me. Like a kiss from a stranger. That love was never really his, wasn’t in his wallet long enough. A few flicks of a finger, a few spinning dials and it’s gone forever. Remember what they say about the machines.
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I like being here because it is a challenge and I actually do feel like I’m doing good. “Please remain calm, we are here to help,” coupled with “Beatings will continue until moral improves.” I make photographs and I make books, a lot of each. I like to share why, how and then revisit the why. Sometimes I don’t want do either but yet there they are, the camera in hand the nonstop mental editing and then the smell of ink on paper. I tell people I jokingly call it a “curse” but I’m not really joking. I watch others moving through life with a different filter and I wonder “why me?”
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Why do I need to report, record and resolve? I wander into a gambling hall and face backwards staring into the souls of the men watching the ponies with a focus that only comes with money on the line. I don’t gamble but I’m fascinated by those who do. Crumpled bits of paper, hands sweeping across sunken eyes and stubble. There is always another race, another day, another bet. The energy in the room is a palpable strain of uncertainty and guilt. “In the end…the machines will always win.”

Blurb Australia: Learning Digital Photography….Again

Say what you will about digital photography, but I would never have made any of these images if I wasn’t using a digital camera. As you can see, these are not great images, but they are snapshots that reflect a certain place at a certain time and provide my journalistic mind with tidbits of visual memory that I so desire. I’ve only had this little camera for a few days now, haven’t made anything great with it, not sure I ever will, but I already know what this little camera is and what it isn’t. I also realize it was never intended to be more than it is regardless of our expectations, desires or ideals. These images were made on an hour-long walk from my hotel up toward the old parliament building here in Melbourne. I had no plan other than to get out. I was locked in with the hot, midday sun and subsequent harshness that accompanies this time and place.
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This camera isn’t a Leica, nor does it replace a film camera. No digital camera replaces a film camera. This camera doesn’t provide a negative. I can see the images as I make them and I can shoot endless photographs by just adding more and more storage media. A film camera doesn’t provide an instant preview and limits me, in a good way, with limited exposures based on how much film I can carry. My film cameras fire at any time with ZERO hesitation. This little camera does not. My film cameras are built like tanks, have hyper fast autofocus(some) and require no computer time unless I want to use them in tandem with technology. This little camera requires the computer, and in most cases, a significant amount, as do all other digital cameras. My 35mm film camera is indestructible, has the best meter, autofocus and ease of use of any camera I’ve ever had. This little camera doesn’t come close but it is 1/3 the size, weight and girth of my film camera and can be carried for days on end without a thought. This little camera is also inconspicuous, and again provides an entirely different set of parameters because it’s DIGITAL.
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These tools are polar opposites.

This camera will never be an M6, 35mm and TRI-X no matter how much you want it to be. You can’t set this camera on square format and get a Hasselblad no matter how much you want to be able to do this, and no matter how much post processing you provide. These are simply different machines. Having said all this, my new little camera is great, I’m glad I have it, and it will find it’s way into the rotation like a knuckleball pitcher. Did I mention the size, weight and style?
Will I make bold proclamations about “this is finally the camera that kills film?” Why would I even want to do that? Who wants to kill film? What benefit would that serve the photography world?
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If you want a film look but a film camera. If you want to shoot digital this camera is a really good option at a good price and is easy to use. It doesn’t entirely get out of your way when you are working with it, but it’s pretty darn good. I’m already happy I have it and look forward to actually using it when I have time to focus on “real” work, images, places. I’ll take it to New Mexico in June and see what is what. Until then I’ll continue to get used to it and I’ll continue to use it for my little, color sketchbook.

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I think these images are further proof that wandering around attempting to make great images is really damn hard, at least for ME. They remind me why I don’t shoot street much. I need interaction with those I’m photographing. I want to spend TIME with people getting in and out, closer and closer, talking, shooting, talking, shooting attempting to break though mental and physical barriers. It’s time consuming, laborious, challenging but I NEED it. I don’t get that street shooting. It’s a bit random for me, detached and I fall pray to things like window reflections and SHOOTING PICTURES OF MY FEET.
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Melbourne has been great, attendance at our events has been high and our little voyage has only just begun. After my work requirements today I will be back out on the street, learning my little beast and searching for those little things that drive us.