25 February, 2008


I have a lot of photographs. Doesn't everyone. I not only have my own, Tom's, but also my father's and my grandfather's, oh and quite a lot that predate my grandfather, featuring severe looking people with large beards and long dresses though not usually at the same time. A few years ago I inherited my grandparents' archive - I showed interest in it when I think other grandchildren hadn't, and aren't they laughing now. I realised that an archive is just a load of old paper and pictures in boxes unless it is catalogued and organised and people can see what is in it. A large part of my archive is photographic as my grandfather was a good and keen photographer from the age of 17 in 1925. He died in 1996 and took photographs every year of his life after he received his first camera. I know when his first photograph was taken because I have the negative with his note. And this brings me to the point of my post.

Before digital we had film and negatives and they too often get shoved in shoe boxes. I have a friend who routinely bins the negatives and keeps the prints. WRONG! Tom has a shoe box stuffed full of prints and negatives with almost no information on what the pictures are of. My grandfather, keen and good photographer that he was, apparently spent his life promising to put the pictures in albums and almost never did. I have now scanned in all his negatives, all those of my father and am working on my own. I am storing the negatives properly in light tight filing boxes and in archive quality filing sheets. Anal, I know, but what Grandpa thought was a snap of his children as babies can become very important to their children in the years to come. So having spent the past two years and counting, sorting out all these photographs I have a few tips for anyone else faced with an even vaguely similar situation.

1. Given a choice between keeping prints and negatives, always keep the negatives. Save the prints you like and keep all the negatives. I have produced beautiful prints from negatives over 60 years old when the corresponding prints have yellowed and aged and curved or been creased or eaten by silverfish. One print is just one print at a particular size, on a certain kind of paper. a negative has the potential to be anything and any size you want. The other plus on this is that negatives take up less space. You can buy files from Manufactum including the negative sheets and another source of useful filing material is Secol who do archive quality storage for museums.

2. If you fancy scanning your old negatives in, then get a good scanner to do it. I bought a Canon which could do medium and large format negatives, as well as slides and 35 mm, and is of course also a standard flatbed scanner. It can do up to 36 35mm negatives in one go, though you of course have to check them and save them individually. Did I mention the two years and counting...?

3. Once scanned, tag your pictures. Negatives on your hard drive or flickr or whatever are no easier to find if you haven't tagged them. I-photo can do this. I use GraphicConverter which allows you to tag things in batches which is handy. Think about how you will want to look at them. For example, I have over 70 years worth of pictures of a family. Some people want to see all the pictures of their mother at whatever age. Others, all those of a particular place, or an event. Or a year. It's time consuming but really does add to the experience.

And for that matter, even if you can't be bothered with scanning and so on, label your pictures. I have so many old pictures of places and people and times that I know next to nothing about. And some were so old Grandma didn't know who they were either. We're talking crinolines here. Now you can say, who cares. But I always think it's sad when you see old photos being sold with no note as to who someone is. Someone knew once. The picture had meaning, and now not knowing, it has lost much of it.

Enough whimsy and back to the list.

4. Back up. Back up. Back up. Of course if you're me, you have the lovely Tom to sort out your storage issues and your backups and so forth. I trust him and he will be dead meat if it ever fails. I'm sure I mentioned the two years and counting.

5. Lastly, and this is about the pictures you are taking now. A tip from my super-organised friend Hilary who gives excellent advice on so much in life. She puts her newly taken pictures straight into an album. Radical I know. I now do this and as we are now digital I use myphotobook. I was using Bonusprint but they don't support the mac so had to find another source. I like to put my albums together on my computer which limits which software you can use. Bonusprint are all right but the printing and paper quality of myphotobook is far far superior. Gorgeous thick paper, good printing and you can put a picture and text on the front. Only downside is that it takes years to upload a book. The books can seem expensive but when you count the cost of printing out your pictures and putting them into a pretty album, they do work out cheaper. Also good when you have young children - mine love looking through photographs of themselves and now they can't pull them out.

Postscript - look I was going to be a good girl and add all the right links to all the right sites but it's gone 10 pm, I'm tired because this is the 10th night without Tom and I miss him and yes that is a lot because managing life with two small girls on your own is hard work (single parents are admirable - which is my English way of saying Respect). Anyway where was I. Oh yes, I'm tired and I'll get to the links later... hey google them.

Post postscript - In case you were wondering, Tom hasn't left. Leastways he says he's coming back next week.

UPDATE: Tom is home, I'm not so tired and the links are added.

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