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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

 

“Our autobiography is written in our contact sheets,  and our opinion of the world in our selects”  

"Never ever confuse sharp with good, or you will end up shaving with an ice cream cone and licking a razor blade."  

 

Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 

 

Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."

 

I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!

 


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Old 03-09-2019   #1
Bill Pierce
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Storage

While I hope other folks jump into this thread, it’s not so much a discussion as it is some observations on something I learned on this last trip. Museums and other photographic organizations are beginning to store images digitally. These can be scans of prints, negatives or transparencies in their collections or images from digital cameras. For the most part these digital files will be stored on hard drives. Solid state drives are still too pricey for many folks storing large volumes of images. And folks have realized that CD and DVD’s have a limited lifetime.

Sadly a few of them don’t realize that hard drives and even SSD’s have a limited lifetime. The mechanical components of hard drives can obviously fail, but the digital images themselves can decay over time. Even the hardy SSD’s with no mechanical parts have a limit on the number of searches they can perform (although that is a very large number). In other words, there is no guarantee against failure and the loss of the stored images.

The reason we store digitally is that we can make many copies and copies of copies and there will be no loss of quality, not something that was true when you made copy negatives and duplicates on film. The value of digital storage comes from the fact that you can make multiple copies so that when one fails you have an identical back up. And before age effects the stored images, you can transfer the files to new media.

I think most photographers know that and keep two back ups at home and one off site - and sometimes add cloud storage. Why a few organizations think that one set of digital files is OK, I don’t know. Perhaps it is because those folks aren’t photographers.
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Old 03-09-2019   #2
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Surely there are acknowledged best practices for museums.
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Old 03-09-2019   #3
Bill Pierce
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ptpdprinter View Post
Surely there are acknowledged best practices for museums.
There is such a huge range of organizations that collect images that I am not amazed that a little time will have to pass before everybody is up to steam. But there are many organizations already there. For example, the Houston Museum's photographic digital archiving is state of the art at both the equipment and personnel level. It is, in essence, a department within a department - and a rather good one at that.
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Old 03-09-2019   #4
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Having worked in a photo archive, I know that the standard setter is the Library of Congress, and any decent museum or archive will be fully in line with their standards to the best of their staff and equipment budget limits.


https://loc.gov/preservation/digital/
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Old 03-09-2019   #5
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So much information is kept in electronic format now. I believe it’s pretty darn reliable now. It’s the way it is. I decided to go electronic years ago. Part of the change to digital wih photography. I did keep duplicates of files on seperate external hard drives. It didn’t worry me then and it doesn’t worry me now.

Even the two accounts I have most of my investments are completely electronic. I don’t print confirms anymore of activity.

My wife is a tax accountant for a firm HQ in Minneapolis. She said that once the work is complete, it is all electronic with all work papers shredded. It’s actually safer if you can believe that.

Like it or not that’s the way the world is turning now.
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Old 03-09-2019   #6
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I believe too many have their files backed up with redundancy or triple redundancy so they can never be lost. Yet the few hundred really worthwhile images are buried in hundreds of thousands of others so it is damn near impossible to find the good ones.

I can foresee times in the future where people ask if anyone remembers the old software program named "Lightroom" which contained the key to separate those relatively few significant images from that huge volume someone shot over their career.

Historically the methodology of archiving significant images automatically separated the wheat from the chaff. Today we have the technology of archiving everything we ever did with no distinction. I can see a time in the future when we and others wish only 1% of what we did was saved and the rest scrapped. Anyone who has looked at a closet full of boxes of 35mm slides already has experienced that.
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Old 03-09-2019   #7
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Absolutely nothing will lasts without maintenance to preserve the image.
Walker Evans' American Photographs (plates) has to be resorted and enhanced.

BTW, looking at some of periodically open to general public expositions at AGO, makes me think they are not only not photographers, but kinky exhibitionists.
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Old 03-09-2019   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Michaels View Post
I believe too many have their files backed up with redundancy or triple redundancy so they can never be lost. Yet the few hundred really worthwhile images are buried in hundreds of thousands of others so it is damn near impossible to find the good ones. ...

Historically the methodology of archiving significant images automatically separated the wheat from the chaff. Today we have the technology of archiving everything we ever did with no distinction. I can see a time in the future when we and others wish only 1% of what we did was saved and the rest scrapped. Anyone who has looked at a closet full of boxes of 35mm slides already has experienced that.
I think that is one of the reasons to make prints of your good stuff.
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Whew, I'm safe then!
Old 03-09-2019   #9
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Whew, I'm safe then!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
I think that is one of the reasons to make prints of your good stuff.
Dear Bill,

None of my stuff is good so what's the harm in it vaporizing?

I fart around and have fun. I don't ask for anything beyond that.

Regards,

Tim Murphy

Harrisburg, PA
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Old 03-09-2019   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dan Daniel View Post
Having worked in a photo archive, I know that the standard setter is the Library of Congress, and any decent museum or archive will be fully in line with their standards to the best of their staff and equipment budget limits.

https://loc.gov/preservation/digital/
Dan, the problem is that there are many archives where the primary interest is not photography, but rather the subject of the photographs in the collection or occasionally the people that took the photographs. These are not museums, but well intentioned folks who don't have the information that most of us who are involved with photography take for granted. And that's what I became aware of on this last trip.
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Old 03-09-2019   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tim Murphy View Post
Dear Bill,

None of my stuff is good so what's the harm in it vaporizing?

I fart around and have fun. I don't ask for anything beyond that.

Regards,

Tim Murphy

Harrisburg, PA
If you're like me, you have some family and friends pictures of dubious quality that family and friends love because it's pictures of them. They are going to be really annoyed when your pictures of them vaporize.
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Old 03-09-2019   #12
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For ordinary humans (not museums):

- Have two copies, in different physical locations (e.g. safe deposit box)

- Shift to new (probably larger) hard drive every three years. Discard old ones before they fail.
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That's why i took all the important pictures before digital
Old 03-09-2019   #13
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That's why i took all the important pictures before digital

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
If you're like me, you have some family and friends pictures of dubious quality that family and friends love because it's pictures of them. They are going to be really annoyed when your pictures of them vaporize.
Dear Bill,

I have negatives that matter, but when the time comes they won't matter either.

My Mom and Dad will both be 80 this year. For at least 35 years I have been begging my Mother to sit down with me and write some names on the backs of the thousands of saved photographs she has in boxes. So far nothing has happened to fulfill my requests.

I'm OK with that. Mom has her memories, my Dad has his, and I have mine.

It is what it is.

Regards,

Tim Murphy

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Old 03-09-2019   #14
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Let's take step back to the analogue age folks. If cared properly vinyl has the best life span of hundreds is not thousands of years. I played 100 year old vinyl shellac records on my mother Victrola in the late 80's that sounded like a live performance. Vinyl would make great storage for photos.

For that matter let's get back to real analogue photography, Kodachrome.
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Old 03-10-2019   #15
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While it is possible--even likely--that most of our photos will end up in a landfill, we really should try to preserve them. Don't underestimate the value of your photos. In 100 years they will be priceless as a means of reference for what is today. Even family photos and vacation snapshots will be valuable. If we don't preserve images of the mundane things that go on in our daily lives history will be incomplete for the future historian.

I don't save everything I shoot and I don't shoot hundreds of images of each subject. Being a relentless editor of my own work, I dump most of the files immediately after downloading and inspecting. I've been backing up my photos on portable hard drives for several years. Ever so often I add a new drive or two and copy everything again. Recently SSDs have been coming down in price so I've started to move in that direction. I still can't figure out a way to store some of these drives off site and still be able to keep them convenient yet accessible for further backing up.

Printing is really a great method of archiving. At one time, it was silver gelatin but today it is archival inkjet. I choose what I consider my best photos for this purpose. I use matte art papers and pigment inks and I store them in archival museum boxes. Nothing elaborate--most photos are simply printed full frame on 8.5x11 inch paper. A few are printed larger for display but the main print archive is just these small prints. On each photo I write the place and month and any other information that seems relevant. Having been faced with boxes of photos my parents and other relatives left behind with no clue as to who or what was pictured, I know the frustration of trying to identify anonymous photographs. Anyway, prints don't need compatible software or USB cables to access. Pretty nifty concept.
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Old 03-10-2019   #16
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Bill, thanks for reminding us to review our storage and update where needed! I do keep an external disk drive on the iMac, and a smaller one for one of my MacBooks, but they are getting old, and I should replace them and get one for my latest MacBook as well.

I think the point about not storing every last shot we ever took really makes sense. It just makes it harder to store and retrieve the good ones. I do edit, but I think I will go back through and weed out the stuff I really don't need. Old test shots, pictures I took just to be taking a picture, and extra shots of the same thing that were not quite as good, can all go!

I have old shots I stored on CD/DVD disks I had already forgotten about. My newest MacBook doesn't even have a drive to put them in. And that's another storage issue. What if the DVDs last forever, but there's no way to use them?
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Old 03-10-2019   #17
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I save my keepers (the files I print) as tifs in a separate folder. I back up my entire system to a couple of 2.5" external hard drives. I could probably back up all my keepers on a SD card.
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Old 03-10-2019   #18
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Sooner than later, the entire 'storage' infrastructure will change, again.
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Old 03-10-2019   #19
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Free cloud storage services frequently change their rules or go out of business.
I've had several services disappear completely after they have warned me that I'd better move my files elsewhere.
Some "free" cloud services don't store full-sized images for free. Instead, they offer access to compressed images, or full-sized images for additional fees.

I switched a couple of years ago to Solid State Hard Drives, which are the safest and least expensive method for my photo storage purposes.
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Old 03-10-2019   #20
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Digital archiving is as good as archiving physical records like papers and photographic prints - but as Bill says, most people and organisations don't do it or do it badly. As pointed out, not only can files corrupt and devices fail or become obsolete but finding files among perhaps several thousand can be difficult, perhaps impossible - assuming you even know what you're looking for or at.

How many of us who intend our images (perhaps digital family snaps) to have a life after us have actually made plans and put them into effect? Personally, I've organised the files that others may want or need, and with my will there's instruction pointing to a certain Word file on my PC that explains my filing system and what and where files are, logins, important websites, etc.

So, that's the organisation sorted.

I also have a robust backup system in place that runs automatically without intervention from me. I use internal and external drives for multiple duplicate back-ups, replacing drives as and when they fail.

I've avoided DVDs, as they are are unreliable and will degrade after some years (even the archival ones). However, I have recently started using them because the new(ish) M-Disc DVDs are good for 1000 years! Essentially, you're using a laser to engrave rock! See here if you want to know more. They're not expensive but you do need a compatible DVD burner. They can be read most DVD drives.

M-Disc has changed how I archive my photos, now that I have permanent media. I now burn a set of photos onto a DVD disc,* and make A4-size prints of them, together with print of thumbnails and file names and a print-out of text describing what the photos show (all on archival paper); all this is placed in an archival cardboard portfolio box. These boxes are kept with my important stuff, so can't be missed when people eventually go throughout my stuff!

_______
*JPG and TIFF of each photo, as both formats are likely to be readable for decades hence owing to their ubiquity; use two formats is simply a fail safe. DVDs may of course become obsolete, as may Windows/Mac/Linux systems needed to read them: I'll have to replace them if that happens. If a descendant many years in the future happens to find a dusty DVD of mine, I'm sure they can read it if they really want to: after all, we can still listen to wax cylinders and read computer punch cards with some effort.
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Old 03-10-2019   #21
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My mom had a picture of her parents on their wedding day (Dated 1928) that I found after she passed...I had never seen it before...
I scanned the photo and have that copy then I gave the actual photo to my Aunt, her sister. It was an important picture to me but it meant more to my Aunt and that's why I gave it to her.
When she passes I'm sure one of her kids will keep it or possible hand it to another of my mom's siblings, eventually passing it down to the next generation...
Somewhere in the passing down this photo may not be as important to the heir as it was to someone who actually knew the people in the photo...and as they passed when my mother was 16 years old...none of us ever met them...
I feel the same way about my photos...at some point they will be meaningless to the person who ends up with them...and most likely thrown out...unless it's a picture of them...

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Old 03-10-2019   #22
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Lot of pictures will seem useless to others, but that does not matter. You record some history that may become important due to some connection you never thought of. When I was growing up there was a little chemical processing plant nearby. It is now a superfund site. I could not find a linkable image, but it is an empty field with some well units on it.

What did it look like in 1975? Like this


Chemical Plant by Mark Wyatt, on Flickr
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Old 03-10-2019   #23
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The more tags you add to the metadata*, the easier it will be to find the images you want in your archive and the greater their chance of being useful and surviving.

I'd assume this is standard practice for most organisations archiving images.

*assuming the metadata is preserved and can be read sometime in the future. This is why notes made on the back of a print are the gold standard.
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Old 03-10-2019   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Michaels View Post
I believe too many have their files backed up with redundancy or triple redundancy so they can never be lost. Yet the few hundred really worthwhile images are buried in hundreds of thousands of others so it is damn near impossible to find the good ones.

I can foresee times in the future where people ask if anyone remembers the old software program named "Lightroom" which contained the key to separate those relatively few significant images from that huge volume someone shot over their career.

Historically the methodology of archiving significant images automatically separated the wheat from the chaff. Today we have the technology of archiving everything we ever did with no distinction. I can see a time in the future when we and others wish only 1% of what we did was saved and the rest scrapped. Anyone who has looked at a closet full of boxes of 35mm slides already has experienced that.
This is not a difficult to solve problem. I did it years ago.

My 'original images' library is about 2.8 Terabytes of data now, and has 478,000 unique image files in it. Of course, there's an awful lot of dross in there that I've not weeded out or worked on.

However, whenever I work on a photo, or set of photos, and "finish" the rendering I want, I export that to a separate directory from the original image archive. This amounts to about 40,000 photographs now. Those are all the ones I've finished and sold, or posted, or used in discussions on forums like this one.

It's a heckuva lot easier to know the totality of that archive than to know what all is in the main image archive. ..

G
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Old 03-11-2019   #25
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I wonder, to what end all this archiving and storage will be useful? As a species we seem to lag a long way behind Elephants and Bees in our ability to pass on learning from the past. If we were better at this, then wars would have become historical events.
Museums are created to preserve artefacts and, in most cases, have a duty to make them available to the rest of us. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London has a wonderful collection of photographs including a great many from Magnum photographers. These images can be seen on request and exist in the form of original prints. Some of these images seem important right now especially to the readers of this column. (All of these images are also available in books and online as digital files). My children may not understand the historical context of these images while appreciating the compositions and quaint social information. Their children may not care at all.
Like wine, music and cheese, all photographs are not worth keeping and most will become even less attractive with time. Even a picture of an interesting or important, long vanished, aspect of our societies that lacks coherence or articulation is useless and uninteresting to the viewer.
if we want to act like museums and preserve our pictures for posterity then let's act like museums and curate our collections, discard the majority and make a hard copy of those that we think are worthwhile. The simple act of fashioning hard copies will almost certainly act as an editing process and we may be shocked to find that whole periods of our lives failed to yield an image we cherish.
I'm deeply cynical about the data storage proposal. It seems to serve others, is based on the fear of imagined loss and ultimately doesn't matter to most of us in our daily existence.

On my deathbed, I won't be saying "I wish I had stored more of my data".
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Old 03-11-2019   #26
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Quote:
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My 'original images' library [...] has 478,000 unique image files in it [... Of these] 40,000 photographs [...] are all the ones I've finished and sold, or posted, or used in discussions on forums like this one.
Eeeep!

I've been taking photographs seriously for about 20 years, and even went to university to study it. But I've only got about 300 finished images, including family snaps! My art photography amounts to less than 200 images, of which about 100 are fully finished and on my website and 100 are in an ongoing project!

My "original images" number about 1000, which includes dross like blurry or accidental stuff that I've not got around to binning.
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Old 03-11-2019   #27
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I have started to get a new SSD to cover the current photographs each year, the excess space used to copy another year going backwards. Along with this I now use SD cards once and store in a wallet thing and all the photographs are on 3 normal drives in the house. Amazon provides infinite photo storage with prime and another drive is stored at my dads. Alas my dad is going to have to move due to health issues so my last line of defence will have to be revisited. I have had two drives die at almost the same time one was the back up of the other, thankfully I had a third drive at the time but after that I added more lines of redundency.
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Old 03-11-2019   #28
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The most interesting images of the past (outside personal loved ones) are either historical events and places. It’s nice to look at photos of what a town or place was like 100 years ago, likewise, images of the big events are great to see.
Unlike the past, these days there are so many images of everything that even if a tiny fraction of a percent survived we could still cover the globe and every interesting event from multiple angles.
Personal photos are nice, but only relevant to the participants and their families. All the other photos are all ready duplicated by everyone with a phone.
I don’t really know where I’m going with this, but I suppose I think an archive is not that important beyond the people involved. I’m not talking about the best art of the day, that will be preserved by the experts, and if art is residing in galleries and museums without a proper archive, then does it qualify as the best art of the day?
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Old 03-11-2019   #29
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I suppose I think an archive is not that important beyond the people involved. I’m not talking about the best art of the day, that will be preserved by the experts, and if art is residing in galleries and museums without a proper archive, then does it qualify as the best art of the day?
The problem with this is: who decides what is best or important? What may seem worthwhile at a point in the past can become inconsequential, and what is worthless or unknown today may become important tomorrow. Contexts can change, and, anyway, there's a lot that's arbitrary, including what and who ends up in museums.

One of my favourite photographers is Lee Miller, who is rightly highly regarded. She was famous in her day, working with Man Ray, and for being one of the few female war photographers. She developed what we would now call PTSD, and gave up photography - telling anyone who wanted to republish her photos that were destroyed in the Blitz. Eventually, she got what she wanted, and was forgotten for 30 years. After her death, her son unexpectedly discovered 60,000 negatives in their attic, and it is only through her re-found archive and his tireless effort since that Lee Miller has once more become a recognised name.

Vivian Meyer, familiar to many here, was unknown in her time, and we only know of her today because of the discovery of her archived photographs.

We can't always tell what will be of interest to our descendants, so keeping archives is important. Just because we think something is trash doesn't mean it will remain so, or that others won't value it. The converse also holds true of course!
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Old 03-11-2019   #30
Bill Clark
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Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Minnetonka, Minnesota
Age: 71
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I just went through some of my B & W negatives.

Didn’t count the number of rolls of negatives, at least 75, all in a trash bag.

When my mom died we put together a tag board to mount photographs to have at her service. Maybe 30 photographs.

How many do you need?
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I make photographs as a return ticket to a moment otherwise gone.
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Old 03-11-2019   #31
willie_901
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I wish I could say I was surprised that some museums and photo organizations don't understand the basics of IT system management.

If they don't have the budget for professional IT management or knowledgable volunteers, how would administrators know any better? Also, I can imagine a new volunteer pointing out the problem and non-technical administrators refusing to allocate funds to implement a solution.
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Basically, I mean, ah—well, let’s say that for me anyway when a photograph is interesting, it’s interesting because of the kind of photographic problem it states—which has to do with the . . . contest between content and form.
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