Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Organizing an archive

I’m sure people at camera stores hate to see me walk in. I’m not exactly a demanding customer, but I know precisely what I want. First, I want 36-frame rolls of film. I also want my film developed, cut into 6-frame sections and placed into negative sleeves. I frequently do not want any prints. I want my negatives this way because I already have an archival system for my images.

Negative sleeves
If a PJ is serious about pulling an archival system together, they need to protect and organize their film. For 35mm shooters, I suggest using Print File 35-6HBs.

I like Print File because they are designed for archival use. There are several hard plastic negative sleeve products, but I’ve found many of those will stick to the film if they are not stored in perfect humidity. I also have a hard time fitting the negs into and removing the negs from the hard plastic sleeves. For the one or two cents difference, give the negatives a break and get them decent sleeves.

I also prefer the 6HBs over the 7B. The 7B (5 frames x 7 rows) is preferred by photo instructors because it’s convenient to make 8x10 contact sheets. However, the 7B only holds 35 frames. The PJ must choose which frame to eliminate forever while the film is still in one piece or leave one frame hanging out to be destroyed. I don’t want any of my frames to become dust magnets or get scratches. Furthermore, I don’t need a contact sheet.

Most PJs shoot 36-frame rolls of film. The 6HB file holds 36 frames (6 frames x 6 rows). It’s a logical answer. If I squeeze my film and get 37 frames, it’s my choice, and I must live with the consequence.

Commercial processors will automatically cut film into four-frame segments. This is more convenient for them to fit into a standard envelope. This makes the PJ’s archive rather difficult to manage. I suppose a PJ could designate a special drawer or box for the envelopes, but I can’t see it working too well as an archive.

Instead, I keep a package of 100 sleeves I bought at the camera store. When I drop off film, I also drop off the same number of negative sleeves and explain exactly what I want. I haven’t had any shop refuse my request.

Label the sleeves
When the PJ picks up the sleeves, use an ultra fine point Sharpie permanent marker and immediately label the sleeve with the shooting date and subject. The Sharpie ink won’t smear or fade with time like other inks. Don’t wait a week because dates and places become fuzzy and require extra investigation. This information should be accurate enough to understand in a few years.

Although it’s best to shoot one general subject per roll, sometimes multiple assignments may appear on the same roll. As shorthand, I place a forward slash “/” between subjects shot on the same day and a double slash “//” between subjects shot on different days. I will also date the sleeve with a shooting range (10/1-3/2004) or separate the dates (10/1 & 10/3/2004).

If time allows, immediately edit with a regular Sharpie (bold-tip). Go though the negatives on a light table or box with a lupe and mark only the best frames with a single underline. Then, go through those frames again and draw a box around the absolute best frame or two on the roll. Additional crop lines can be drawn on the neg sleeve with a grease pencil or soft-tipped marker (a fine-tip could damage then neg).

In the old days, this was called the initial edit. It was done with a grease pencil. The neg sleeves were taken to the desk for a photo editor to select. The editor would put her/his initials on the frames to be scanned. Now it’s all part of the digital workflow, but this process is still helpful for personal archives.

If there’s one portfolio-quality or particularly valuable image on a roll, make a special notation on the top of the file and possibly put a star or some other mark near the frame. This will help during contest season when the PJ is frantically looking for great images on thousands of rolls of film.

Put it in a binder
Place the negative sleeves into a standard three-ring binder by shooting order. This adds an extra layer of organization and protection to the negatives. Use a huge, broad-tip marker and label the spine of the binder with a date range and possibly content separation (ie. Sports 7/2004 - 11/2004, Family 2/2004 – 11/2004). Leave the ending date open until the book is full. This will help locate the negatives at a later date. It will also let the PJ know the quality level of the images (everyone improves dramatically during the first few years and then makes subtle refinements over time).

If PJs are shooting several types of film or formats, they might separate these by binder colors. Personally, I use gray for B&W film, red for color film, blue for slides (chrome), and black for family. If I shot medium format film, I would probably use green binders (those images are worth more money). I keep 8x10 prints in archive sleeves inside white binders.

The same binder separations can be done with photo CDs, or they could have a color unto themselves. I personally use large CD binders with a zipper closure and four slots per page (8 including back of page). They allow enough room to securely keep the CD and additional cutline information in the same sleve.

All of these binders are on bookshelves in one specific place organized by binder color and date. It quickly eliminates options if the PJ isn't sure where an image is located.

Enough for now,

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