Tag Archives: photographs

Job #1 for Your New Camera: Set the Date

The high school graduation I’m about to show you took place on May 26, 2001:

High school graduation, May 2001

High school graduation, May 2001

But you wouldn’t know it from the date on this photograph taken by my grandfather. That printed date is “12-26-1997”:

Date printed on back of photo: Dec. 26, 1997

Date printed on back of the above photo: Dec. 26, 1997

And yes, I’m absolutely positive that event took place  2001. I was there. That’s me, giving the speech. I have a diploma, yearbook, diary entries, and news clippings—not to mention dozens of other photographs—that prove the date was in fact May 26, 2001.

So what gives?  It can’t be the date that the film was processed, because then wouldn’t that date be May 26, 2001, or later? Not 4 years earlier. Unless my grandpa had a time machine nobody knew about. (Wouldn’t that be a fun thing to see in a will? And to my granddaughter, I leave my time machine… But I digress…)

So the date printed on the back of the photograph must be the internal date that was set on the camera. This was a film camera, but it was one of those Kodak Advantix models, with the weird film canisters—

Kodak Advantix film canister

Kodak Advantix film canister — yes, after processing it’s still in its little canister. As an archivist, I’m like, “Oh great, how the crap am I supposed to store this?” Let alone use the negatives. But that’s a different issue from today’s post.)

—and the weird-sized prints and, apparently, the ability to print the “actual” date that the photo was taken on the back of the prints (and on the index print), not just the date of processing.

That is completely commonplace now, to have the actual photo date printed on the backs of your pictures, because today we all mostly use digital photography, and the date is embedded in the image file’s metadata already, so it’s easy for the computers processing your digital photos to print that info on the back. I’m not sure how the Advantix process worked, but it seems like printing the actual date-taken would have been a relatively sophisticated thing for a film-based system to actually accomplish.

Anyhow… Back to the point, though:   Printing the actual photo date-taken on the back of the prints is all well and good, FANTASTIC EVEN…but only if that date is actually CORRECT.

As an archivist, I almost think I would rather have NO DATE AT ALL on the backs of photographs, than to have a date that is completely wrong. Granted, I suppose having that date there lets me know that this photo was taken no earlier than the date printed on the back, because that’s got to be either the processing date, the date taken, or (in this case) a date that is sometime after the manufacturing date of the camera.

But which is it?

If I didn’t know that photograph was taken in 2001 (because I was there)… If I didn’t recognize the family members (and their approximate ages—especially my younger cousins) in the other photographs shown on the index print (or if you’re lucky, contained in the envelope – but these were all just loose)… If I was completely oblivious to who any of these people were…so, if I were just looking at this pile of photographs like most archivists would do with the masses of piles of photo prints that people seem to have from the 1980s to present…

I might have just slapped them into a folder for 1997 and called it a day, thinking that must be either the processing date or date-taken. But that would have been inaccurate. I know these things happen, but it’s hard to ignore dates printed on photos, even when you KNOW from experience that they can be inaccurate for a variety of reasons (wrong camera date, later reprints from an earlier negative, etc.)

So, here’s my charge to you, and by you, I mean everyone in the world who owns any kind of a camera or anything with a camera in it (cell phone?):

Job #1 when you get that equipment out of the box is to figure out where the thing keeps its time and date settings, and make sure they are set correctly. (If you can’t power the thing up until you insert a charged battery, then charging the battery up may be Job #1….But then this date thing is Job #2!)  Not taking a picture of your dog, your cat, your baby (unless your baby is being born like RIGHT THEN, in that case I give you a pass- but that just means you’ll need to diligently correct all the dates later!), your spouse, your plants, or whatever else is around that you are itching to snap that first photo of. Take the extra 2 minutes and figure out how to set the correct date and time on the camera, and actually do it.

And while you’re looking at the manual (if you’re looking at the manual), see if it mentions whether you will need to re-set the date when you replace the batteries. Digital cameras today don’t seem to have that problem; they must have a little ROM chip or something; but I think this may have been the case with some film cameras (like this one my Grandpa had). So just take a few seconds and double-check that.

And while we’re on the subject of dates: I don’t recommend letting the camera print the date on the corner (especially if it’s not correct, oh god! but you’re going to be good and set the date so you won’t have that problem, right?). As someone who loves photos, I think it ruins the picture a bit. I used to love this back when I had a regular film camera, because the date didn’t print on the back; printing it on the front was the only way to have it printed on your picture. But there’s no excuse for that now, since like I said the date-taken is in the digital photo metadata and usually is printed on the back automatically by various photo printing companies (e.g., Shutterfly does this, I know).

Okay, enough scolding. But please, please, set the date on your camera as soon as you get it out of the box. I know it’s an exciting time, and your first thought is probably not the boring task of setting the date but instead to start snapping pictures. But trust me, if you take that extra 2 minutes immediately to set the date and time, you will thank me later. And so will your children, your grandchildren, and your friendly neighborhood archivist.

Hidden mothers, post-mortem, and 1940s Italian-Americans

(Now there’s a weird blog title for ya; how the heck do those things fit together? Well, read on, my friend, and I’ll tell you what I’m getting at…)

A day or two ago, a friend of mine posted a link to a blog post she’d found about “Hidden mothers in Victorian portraits” (and its follow-up, “More hidden mothers in Victorian photography: post-mortem photographs or not?”) by Chelsea Nichols.

I found these posts ridiculously interesting (ha, play on words of the blog title) for a variety of reasons.

For one thing, they are quite visually interesting, as they include a lot of photographs to illustrate the subject of the posts: mothers (or whoever) hiding under blankets, curtains, etc., to hold children steady in Victorian-era portraits. Remember, back in Ye Olde Dayes, the process of capturing a photograph was not instantaneous; so you had to hold still until the exposure was finished. Not so easy to get little ones to do this; hence, the mothers in the pictures.

Another reason the subject piqued my interest is that it reminded me of a couple of similar photographs that I have seen before. (Oh, that archivist brain : always pulling things up from the back-files of my mind…)

One of the photos I thought of actually fits the description of what’s being discussed — well, sans blanket:

PEIRCE, Howard Forrer 13 from Oversize Photo #1924 by Dayton Metro Library Local History, on Flickr

Howard Forrer Peirce (and his mother?), from Oversize Photo #1924 by Dayton Metro Library Local History, on Flickr

That’s Howard Forrer Peirce (born 1865) and, presumably, his mother. If it was meant to be a photo of the two of them, it’s not very good, since mom is mostly hidden (much to my chagrin, as an archivist, since that’s the only pic we have of her! –if it is indeed his mother, which I’m pretty sure it is, based on what her sisters looked like!–). So I suppose it is probably a situation of trying to get the boy to cooperate and/or hold him still while the photo was exposed.

The other photo that came to mind is actually a lot more similar to the photos in the posts. But it is not from the Victorian era; it’s from the early 1940s:

Baby and hidden mother, ca. 1941

Baby and hidden mother, ca. 1941

The baby in this photo is one of my aunts, and the person under the sheet is, more than likely, my grandmother. At first I wasn’t totally sure if therewassomeone under the sheet, or if they just draped it over a chair as a backdrop, but then I noticed how the sheet seems to be “holding” the baby, under the arms…so there must be a person under there.

But why? Why in the 1940s? Presumably, they were using a camera that was capable of taking an instantaneous photograph. So I guess they must have just thought it would be a fun thing to do, stylistically. (Unfortunately, anyone who would have been around — and old enough to know what was going on — the day the photo was taken…is now deceased, so I can’t ask them.)

Then, there’s one more thing I want to mention. When I was first thinking about writing this post, all I was thinking about was the “hidden mother” pictures I had seen.

But then I got to thinking: This is the second Victorian photography trend I have seen duplicated by my Italian-American ancestors in the 1940s. That’s…interesting.

Remember the post-mortem photographs I found in my grandfather’s photographs?

Now, before I go any further with my thoughts and wonderments, let me just say that I realize it would be bad science, and bad history, and just bad in general, to pretend like I could make any gross generalizations about an entire group of people or a practice, based on a handful of isolated examples.

But…it’s not going to stop me from wondering if this could, in fact, illustrate some sort of a legitimate historical trend.

Sometimes, we see something that looks cool — e.g., in photography — and we seek to replicate it, simply for the sake of “art”, without regard for the rhyme or reason behind why the thing we are replicating may have happened or been done out of necessity in the original work.

For instance, why is everyone obsessed with Instagram? Don’t they know that the original “retro” photos they are seeking to replicate look all yellow and weird because of the subpar photographic processes of the 1970s? No, they just think it looks cool, so they take a perfectly good (new) digital photo and intentionally make it look degraded…for the sake of “art”.

Similarly, I wonder if my grandparents saw older photographs of babies being held by mothers under sheets and thought, “Hey, that is a neat way to photograph a baby; let’s replicate that.” Maybe they didn’t realize why the mothers had to hold the babies (although I’m still not sure why they had to hide); or maybe it didn’t matter either way, but they just wanted to create something “retro” (before “retro” was cool — or even a term!).

Same thing with the post-mortem photos my grandfather took of his parents. People used to do that (especially in the Victorian era) because taking photogrpahs was less common then, and the deceased person might never have been photographed before, thus making the post-mortem photo your “last chance” to capture their likeness in photographic form. I wonder if my grandpa had seen some of those type of photographs and just thought, “Hey, I should do that,” when his parents died. I have seen several photographs of my grandfather’s parents — when they were alive — so I know such photos existed and were in his possession; it’s not like he had no others.

And here’s where my stab at bad history comes in:  If they were taking those pictures because they wanted to replicate others they had seen, I wonder if socio-economics had anything to do with it all.

Now, just stick with me a minute here.

The Italian immigrants of the early 1900s (like my ancestors) tended to be poorer (at least initially) than many other Americans. Being not-so-well-off (which in many cases is a great understatement) is probably why most of them left all they’d even known and came to great Land of Opportunity in the first place.

And okay, so, people (and dare I say “civilizations”) that are lagging a bit behind in a variety of areas, like technology, might tend not to have the latest-and-greatest advancements — especially since a lot of those were being churned out in the United States back then, not in backhills of northern Italy, where my relatives were from.

I wonder: did the photographers in rural Tuscany still use photographic processes that required holding still for a long time, later than most American photographers? Might my grandfather, who lived in Italy until the mid-1930s, have seen a lot more of those “hidden mother” photographs than most young men in the 1940s had?

And, as for the post-mortem photos : if things were “worse” in Italy in the early 1900s than they were in America — after all, Italians came to the USA to find work and a “better life,” not vice versa — wouldn’t that likely include people being generally poorer? And when you’re poor, what can you not afford? Well, probably “luxuries” like owning a camera or visiting a professional photographer more than every great once in a while. So it makes me wonder if those “last chance” post-mortem photographs might have been more common, up through a later date (year), in places with a greater concentration of poor people.

We typically associate these styles of photographs — the “hidden mother” and the post-mortem — with the Victorian era in America. But consider that poorer communities (such as, in my example, early-1900s rural Italy) might have still had some of the same issues (older technology that required standing still for photos; greater likelihood that the deceased had never been photographed because it was too expensive to take photos willy-nilly like we do today) that were the root causes of those “odd” styles of Victorian photos.

And if we sometimes mimic what we know, what we’ve seen, what our friends and relatives are doing or have done or did in the pretty recent past, I can imagine how it might have happened that my Italian-American grandparents ended up essentially duplicating some things that were popular (in America) decades before they themselves were even actually born. (Meanwhile, I’ve never seen such things in the collections of American-born people from the same era.)

Like I said, this is completely unscientific and not good history either. But it was a thing that made me go, “Huh, that’s weird.” So I thought I’d just wonder out loud.

Has anyone else seen any “hidden mother” or post-mortem photos from the 1940s?

99 Years of Dayton Photographers

How does anyone ever have an original idea anymore? Obviously, some people manage to do so, because new things still keep coming along. And yet, it seems like most of the time, whenever I think, “There really oughtta be X,” there already is X, and I just hadn’t found it yet.

A recent example of this phenomenon occurred to me recently, with regard to an historical listing of Dayton photographers.

For the past few months, I have been processing the Thresher-McCann manuscript collection. In addition to loose papers and scrapbooks, the collection includes 260 (yes, exactly 260 – I just finished numbering them yesterday) photographs, the majority of which are unidentified. From the very few identified ones, I have been able to “tentatively” identify some of the people in others. (I have become pretty adept at recognizing Mary and Laura Thresher, but that’s about it. I don’t know the rest of the people from Adam. Well, okay, unless it’s woman; then I don’t know her from Eve.)

However, many of the photographs have the photographer’s name, city, and sometimes street address printed on them somewhere.

Sometimes on the front:

Appleton and Hollinger (Dayton, Ohio) (ms036_0045)

Appleton and Hollinger (Dayton, Ohio) (ms036_0045)


Grossman and Owings (Dayton, Ohio) (ms036_0047)

Grossman and Owings (Dayton, Ohio) (ms036_0047)


Bowersox (Dayton, Ohio) (ms036_0046)

Bowersox (Dayton, Ohio) (ms036_0046)

Sometimes on the back:

A. Yount (Dayton, Ohio) (ms036_0176)

A. Yount (Dayton, Ohio) (ms036_0176)


Roger's Portraits (Dayton, Ohio) (ms036_0048)

Roger’s Portraits (Dayton, Ohio) (ms036_0048)


M. Wolfe (Dayton, Ohio) (ms036_0049)

M. Wolfe (Dayton, Ohio) (ms036_0049)

And sometimes, the photorapher’s name is not even on the portrait, per se, but is written on one of those horribly acidic, construction-paper-feeling folders that old photographs are often stored in. (So if the photo came in a yucky folder or envelope, check for — and record — any useful info before casting that awful thing aside!)

I’ve actually elected to organize the unidentified photographs according to state, city, and photographer’s name, because it seemed like the most logical way to hopefully get photographs that originally went together, to remain together, not knowing who any of the people are.

As archivists know, one of the tasks in describing materials is to (hopefully) identify the date(s) of the materials, either from a given date (woohoo! I love when things are already dated!) or to make an educated guess if possible (which you would either put in brackets and/or add some relative words — e.g., circa, about, approximately, before, after, etc.).

So, putting those last two paragraphs together, you get the thought that kept going through my mind : Man, it would be awesome if I had an index to Dayton photographers, where I could look up the photographer’s name alphabetically and get the listings (hopefully with the different addresses of their various studios over the years), along with the dates when they operated at each location —- which could then be used to establish an approximate time frame for the photograph(s) in question.

Once I finished organizing the photographs, I finally got around to checking the library catalog to see whether we already owned such a book. Failing that, I was going to ask around to my co-workers and Dayton archives colleagues, to find out whether such a thing existed (and maybe Dayton library just didn’t have it for some reason). And failing THAT, I was prepared to roll up my sleeves, cozy up with the Dayton city directories, and produce the thing myself.

Well, lo and behold — the thing does already exist. Of course. Ha!  I’m not sorry that someone has already done all that work for me; it’s just another one of those things — it figures that this awesome idea was already had by someone — apparently Richard D. Fullerton…before I was even born. Ha!

The index I am referring to is 99 Years of Dayton Photographers (1982) by Richard D. Fullerton.

We have several copies of the book at the Dayton Metro Library — unfortunately for you who may wish to borrow it, they are all non-circulating, so you’ll have to use it in the library (all copies live at Main) [but some other local libraries have it too] — so I retrieved one and set about trying to narrow down a time frame for some of the undated Dayton photographs (such as those above).

The book has a helpful introduction. Fullerton lists the sources that he used (including city directories, census records, photographs themselves, and others), and he also cites those sources throughout the book, to tell where he got a particular piece of information about a name, date, or location.

Fullerton also gives information in the introduction about the approximate years of use for different kinds of photographs, also identifying the photo process’s hey day, which can help with dating photographs as well.

Having archival training and a copy of Ritzenthaler & Vogt-O’Connor’s photo preservation book, aka my photo archives Bible, I already had a pretty good idea of those approximate time periods. But, it was a great idea to include them, since some photographers worked for many years in Dayton (*cough*Bowersox*cough*), and so simply having the dates of the shop didn’t narrow it down much.

Between knowing which types of photographs were popular when, and having access to Fullerton’s book, I was able to established somewhat more useful dates — okay, anything is more useful than “Undated” — for the Dayton imprint photographs. Now, unfortunately, most of the unidentified photos in the collection weren’t actually made in Dayton, so Fullerton’s book can’t help me with those.

I don’t suppose anyone knows of a book like this for Cincinnati? 🙂

In any event, I am pleased that I found the Fullerton book. It definitely saved me a lot of work. (Now, don’t get me wrong, a bunch of completely unidentified photographs don’t usually warrant searching all those city directories just to get a slightly-more-useful-than-“undated” date that I can stick in a finding aid. I mean all the work that I would have done creating an index of long-lasting usefulness — like Fullerton did!)

One more thing : Even having those narrower dates isn’t necessarily all that helpful to me, someone who doesn’t know the names or the faces of the unidentified people. I think it would be a lot more useful to genealogists — if you have a photo, and you know who it is, but you’re wondering, “How old is great-great-grandma in this picture?” Or, “Could that be Great-Uncle James? Was he even still alive then?” Or….you get the idea. But hey, sometimes having a place and an approximate date and a location could narrow down the other unknowns quite a lot for you, depending on how your family history played out.

Anyhow, I hope you enjoyed this little jaunt into one of my “there should really be…if there’s not, I’m so going to…oh wait, there already is…okay, good…using that now” moments.

Save your digital photos, Part 3: Why you need to do it (Photo Reprise)

Okay, so Part 2 was a bit verbose. Sorry. I suppose you could say I am nothing if not thorough?

I warned my husband that it had gotten a bit long, and after he read it, his comment was: “You were right. It does make you sound a bit insane!”

To which, I replied: “Better insane than sorry.”

And I stand by that.

However, if you made it this far in the series, I want to remind you simply about why I posted that seemingly endless outline for my digital photo preservation strategy: to help you preserve your own digital memories.

And since they say that “a photo is worth 1000 words,” I thought I’d drive the point home by simply sharing a selection of digital memories that I personally wouldn’t want to see lost.

(All photos below are either from my own personal collection or those of my friends/family, used with permission.)

If this doesn’t impress upon you the reason I wrote Parts 1 & 2 — and why I want to burn the bottom-line concept of LOCKSS (lots of copies keeps stuff safe!) into your brain — I don’t know what will.

And, go:











The Aisle



The Kiss



Out the Doors



Cakey Kiss



The Wind



The WHOLE family



Dancing with my 90-year-old grandfather (who died in 2008)



Seeing the house where grandpa was born (in Italy)



57 years and 7 kids later



Forum at Rome, Italy



Smoky Mountain Honeymoon



Erectheion at Athens, Greece



Cades Cove, TN



New Family



Meeting Mom and Dad



Day 1


All photographic moments that can never — NEVER — be replaced.

If that thought doesn’t make you want to make an active effort to preserve your digital memories (and the print ones, too), then no amount of words from me can help you.

Thanks to my family and friends who gave me permission to use their photos.

Save your digital photos, Part 2: How I do it

In Part 1 of “Save your digital photos,” I listed a number of reasons why you should be backing up your digital photos.

And I mentioned LOCKSS, which I will reiterate and emphasize again here, is the TLDNR take-away message I want you to get from both Parts 1 and 2. If you read or remember nothing else, please just always remember this rule of thumb in regards to your digital files, and (assuming you follow it) you should be good to go:

LOCKSS = Lots of copies keeps stuff safe.

Also in Part 1, I mentioned this OHS blog post with “Tips for Saving Your Digital Photographs”. My own personal digital photo preservation routine seems to fall within the parameters they recommend, so I thought maybe I would share the specifics of it here, to give an idea of what a home user might do to ensure that their digital photogrpahs will both exist, and be accessible, for a long time.


And now, for some minutiae.

The following are the details of my own personal digital preservation regimen. (So, to be clear, this is what I do at home, not in my professional capacity as an archivist at the library.)

My way is certainly not the only solution or even necessarily the best. But I feel that it has served me well in the past. I can confidently say, “If my laptop died tomorrow, I really wouldn’t be that upset about it, because I know all my stuff is safely stored in multiple places.”


Here is what I do, roughly broken down into steps:

Step 1: Download the photos.

At least once a month (I have a reminder set), I download the photos from my smart phone and my digital camera onto my computer’s hard drive. I usually leave the photos on the camera’s memory card, also, for about a month. For instance, at the end of May, I would copy all of May’s photos onto my hard drive, leave the a copy of the May photos on the camera, and delete the April photos still left on the camera. I usually dump this month’s photos into a virtual holding tank, a folder called (creatively enough) “New Pics,” until I am ready to organize them. (Don’t worry; I do the organizing pretty soon after the data dump. But I usually have to collect the images from two cameras and an iPhone before I start organizing, to make sure I have everything.)

Why do Step 1? Copying your photos from your camera devices onto your hard drive gives you a second copy of them and protects you from losing the photos if you lose your camera or phone. (I know some cell phones have “cloud” backup, but I bet your digital camera probably doesn’t.) However, this only works until the memory in your camera or phone fills up. You will need a more long-term solution (see Step 4+), also, but this is good for starters.

Step 2: Create & utilize named folders.

I have folders for each month (e.g., “2011-10 Oct”), with descriptively named folders for each event in that month. I usually use the ISO 8601 date and then a descriptive name, such as: “2011-12-25 Christmas.” If I have random pictures (no particular event), I just toss them into the appropriate month’s folder.

Why do Step 2? It’s easy to accumulate a lot of digital photos (since they are cheap and easy to create!), and they can become a jumbled, unmanageable mess pretty easily. Also, if you have photos from the same event but different cameras, the potentially different sequential file naming schemes might not keep them next to each other in your “All My Photos Ever” folder. Step 2 does not technically do anything to help preserve the images themselves, but it will help preserve the meaning of the photos. (Ever found a bunch of old photos and thought, “Gee, I wonder what was going on here?” or “Grandma looks so young; I wonder what year this was?” Yeah, thought so.)

Step 2b: Cull the collection.

Once you’ve got all the photos from a certain event in front of you, take a few minutes to delete any you don’t need or want. Delete pocket shots (the camera equivalent of “butt dialing“). At least consider deleting blurry ones and ones with really unfortunate facial expressions. If you have several shots that are nearly identical, consider choosing the best one and deleting the rest.

You could do this culling after Step 1 (file download) or after Step 3 (filenaming), but I think it makes the most sense after you’ve filed by event (so you can see everything together) but before you go to all the trouble of renaming everything.

Why do Step 2b? There are two good reasons to do this: #1 digital storage is pretty cheap these days, but it’s still not free; and #2 you won’t have to wonder “now which 2011 family Christmas photo did I decide was the best one?” every time you want it. (If you really want to keep all the shots even though it looks like a flipbook, you could mark the best one as “BEST” (so creative, I know) when filenaming (see step 3), but that doesn’t help you save storage space.)

A word of caution about Step 2b: On the flip side, don’t delete photos you actually want just to save space, unless you are really desperate. My husband fully supports my mass proliferation of photographs, reminding me: storage space is cheap.  So, if you really want it, find a way to keep it. (You can buy more CDs or a bigger hard drive; but once those photos are gone, they’re gone.)

Step 3: Create meaningful file names.

I change the generic photo filenames assigned by the camera to something more descriptive, which helps me find the image I want without having to look at every file. Again, I like the ISO 8601 date, the event, then the generically assigned file name (most cameras use a sequential numbering system so this keeps the photos in chronological order), and then sometimes info about the subject. For example: “2011-12-25 Christmas IMG_0099 opening gifts.jpg” or “2011-12-25 Christmas IMG_0100 Lisa Matt.jpg.” (Note: You should try to keep the file names short, because some operating systems have trouble with longer file names. I am not always good about keeping things short — you’ve read my blog, right? — so I am guilty of not doing this. But I still thought I ought to mention it.)

Meaningful folder and file names

Meaningful folder and file names


Okay, so you’ve got your photos from all your digital devices (go you!); you’ve organized them in relevant folders and given them meaningful filenames (woohoo!). Now, you want to make sure all that hard work doesn’t go to waste. You need to protect those image files against the many ways they can be lost (see Part 1).

If all else fails, remember LOCKSS: Lots of copies keeps stuff safe.

Step 4: Do regular external backups.

When I say “regular,” I mean pretty often. I do my backup of photos (as well as other files) once a week (another reminder is set).

And when I say “external,” I mean to another physical location besides your the hard drive to which you downloaded the photos in Step 1. I mean, create a regularly-updated second copy of your stuff somewhere. That “somewhere” could be an external hard drive, CDs, DVDs, cloud storage, USB drives, etc.

Personally, I don’t recommend CDs, DVDs, or USB drives (and do I even need to address floppy disks?) because they can go bad over time, and you have to remember to check them periodically (and possibly refresh them – which means, making copies on new disks/media to replace the old ones). I recommend using an external hard drive of some sort, because if you keep using the same drive every time to backup things, you will realize immediately when it goes bad because you are accessing it every week to make those backups. If you put your photos on a CD and throw it in a drawer, thinking, “Okay, there’s my backup for 2011,” then in a few years when your computer crashes, you might find that CD can’t be read anymore either. Then what? You just lost 2011’s photos.

By using a hard drive, which I will access frequently to make additional backups (thereby acting as a check to make sure it’s still working, without having to remember to check it for no other reason than checking it), I don’t have to remember the CDs (or DVDs or USB sticks or SD cards or whatever) that I stowed away years ago and hope they still work when I need them; or to remember to check them every 6-12 months or so.

Nevertheless, any backup media you choose to use is better than none at all. Because if you make any backup copies, there’s at least a chance they’ll still work when you need them. If you make no copies at all, I guarantee you will lose those photos when your computer/phone/camera dies.

In my case, I use an external hard drive system called a NAS — Network-Attached Storage — which has a two-disk RAID (redundant array of independent disks) configuration.

NAS (Network-Attached Storage)

NAS (Network-Attached Storage)

Without getting too technical, this means that I can backup my files over our home network to this little box that has two identical hard drives in it (in our case, 1 terabyte each). Although the box technically contains 2 TB of space, you can only fill up one disk’s worth of space – in my case, 1 TB – because the second disk exists solely to backup the first. So, in this way, I actually have a double backup going on. If one of the two disks goes bad, I still have a backup.

Why do Step 4? You need an external second copy of your files in case your first copy gets lost, stolen, destroyed, corrupted, or otherwise killed in some way.

Step 5: Keep an off-site backup.

Now, if you opted to go with cloud storage for your Step 4, where your photos are backed up over the Internet, then you may not need to do Step 5 also. Theoretically, anyone with any business running a cloud storage service should have your files protected in multiple ways, and obviously this storage is off-site because it is stored on the company’s servers in who-knows-where. So, if you used cloud storage for Step 4, you are probably covered on Step 5 also.

I do use online storage for part of my Step 5. I have an account at Smugmug, where I am able to backup an unlimited number of photos for $40 per year. The site has lots of cool features (and no, they aren’t paying me to promote them), but I mostly got the account for backup purposes. However, I have since implemented another off-site backup solution, since the cost for restoring all my images from Smugmug would be pretty high.

As my other off-site backup solution, I have a second pair of external hard drives (in addition to the ones in the NAS). I keep one of the drives at my house at any given time and make weekly backups to it, just like I do the NAS. The other drive is at my parents’ house, 100+ miles away. Whenever I visit my parents (usually every few months), I swap the two hard drives.

One of my off-site backup solutions

One of my off-site backup solutions

Why do Step 5? Keeping an off-site backup gives you an additional layer of protection against more types of loss. Let’s say you do Steps 1-4, but your backup is stored at your house, along with your computer. What if someone steals your computer and your external hard drive? What if your home is destroyed by a fire or natural disaster? If it’s a house fire, then storing your off-site backup at a friend’s house nearby will save you, but what if it’s a major disaster such as a hurricane, earthquake, or flood? Odds are, if your friend’s house is in the same metro area, it will be affected also. Ideally, you would want your off-site storage several hundred miles away. This is another plus to cloud storage, because odds are, those servers are going to be hundreds of miles away from you and probably spread across many different locations.

My swap-a-hard-drive-at-Mom-and-Dad’s-house method is pretty good, but it might be a couple of months out-of-date. But at least I can get those last couple of months’ of picturse off of Smugmug. It’s a lot easier to copy the files from a hard drive than to get them back from the Internet either through download or ordering CDs (which would be expensive and I don’t even want to think about how many CDs I would need to order from them).

Step 6: Print out the pictures.

Any photos that I want to be accessible for many years, I have printed. Yes, this costs money. Do it anyway. I don’t recommend printing your photos at home; photo print services have better machines, processes, and inks. Just leave it to the pro’s. Personally, I use Shutterfly (and no they aren’t paying me), but there are many good ones.

Another plus to using an online photo printing site is that it can be an off-site backup, depending on how long the photos are stored there. You can order photo CDs if you need to. In fact, as I was fact-checking to write this, I learned that Shutterfly now has unlimited free photo storage; they didn’t used to, which was part of why I got Smugmug, among other things. Anyway, the point is: free online photo storage – with the option to order your photos on CDs (if you need them later) – does exist, so there’s really no good excuse not to do it. If you don’t have Internet access, go to the public library; furthermore, if you don’t have Internet access, how are you even reading this?

I like Shutterfly because the pictures look good, they aren’t too expensive ($0.15 per 4×6, currently), and (perhaps the biggest factor why I use them) they print the filename on the back. Remember all that filenaming you did? Yeah, here’s another way it pays off. Not necessarily having to rewrite all that again on the back of your prints. Although, you might want to write on them; that the pre-printed filename may rub off eventually. Without going off on a tangent about the best way to archivally label your photos, just please make sure your prints are labeled in some way (Step 6b) – or else you’ll still have the whole, “What was going on here and when?” scenario years later, if you don’t transfer the descriptions to the prints also.

Why do Step 6? For all the time I’ve spent developing and implementing my plan for how to keep my digital photos safe, I must admit, I still don’t 100% trust digital-only. I could write a whole separate blog entry about why that is, but suffice it to say that anything digital is always going to be technology-dependent, meaning you will need certain equipment and software in order to access it.

You know what’s not technology-dependent? Hard copy. That’s why you can still rummage through Grandma’s box of photos, even though the camera or even the negatives may be long gone. Back in the Day, the only option for enjoying your photos was to have prints made. And as long as those prints exist and you’ve got eyes to see, you’ll be able to enjoy them. You won’t be rooting around looking for a way to access that old hard drive or disk — assuming the media hasn’t gone bad — in 2050. You can just kick back with an album or box of pictures. Old School.

No special equipment required.

No special equipment required.


Okay, I know that was very long and involved and full of details. Part of that is because I’m verbose. But part of that is because actually managing to effectively preserve your photo memories in this day and age is involved. You must make a conscious effort to do it. And for some people, simply telling them, “You need to backup your photos,” is not really all that helpful. So I thought perhaps sharing something a little more step-by-step might be helpful.

This post is an example of one possible plan for keeping your digital photos safe. There are many options. And, like I have said, the way described here (“my” way) is not the only way or even necessarily the best way. But I think I have all the major bases covered. I can say with some degree of confidence that if my laptop kicked the bucket tomorrow (again, knock on wood), all my photos are safe because they exist somewhere else (in some cases multiple somewheres). I would even go so far as to say that if my house burned to the ground with all my physical belongings inside (WAY knock on wood), I could replace all of my digital photos except maybe the last week’s worth.

So while some might call all of this “overkill,” I call it “peace of mind.”

Save your digital photos, Part 1: Why you need to do it

I can’t remember the last time I so much as held a film camera. I have been shooting all my photos with a digital camera for years now. I’d be willing to bet that many of the rest of you have been doing the same. It’s quick, easy, convenient, cheap (free even – after the initial cost of the camera – because you don’t have to pay to develop film, and prints are optional), etc. So go ahead, take 10 shots of that weird bug you found on your porch.

My favorite part of digital photography is the ability to take a photo, check it, and take it again if you don’t like it – no more disappointment when you get the film back; no more taking 3 shots “just in case” (and still maybe not getting a good one).

What’s not to love, right?

Well, from an archivist’s perspective: a lot.

To a certain extent, I think a lot of archival and historical material manages to survive “by accident.” Once something is committed to a tangible medium, such as paper (a printed photograph, a letter, a diary, a newspaper, or whatever), it is pretty much going to remain in existence (somewhere) until it is physically destroyed in some way (thrown away, burned, flooded, shredded, etc.). Even materials stored in horrid conditions still sometimes manage to survive and are perfectly usable after decades. (Remember that box of old photos you found in Grandma’s sweltering attic? Okay, not the best storage location, but by God, they were in that shoebox and still perfectly viewable. And hopefully you rescued them to a more appropriate storage spot, like a main floor closet. Right? RIGHT?!)

Now, don’t get me wrong, your digital photos are still perfectly susceptible to dying in a fire or any of those other things I described — whether it’s the camera itself, the media card, your hard drive, or your prints. But in my opinion, digital photos are actually more fragile than old-school film/print photographs, because it actually seems to take a lot more work to keep them safe.

With both regular film photos and digital photos, you have to snap the picture, and you have the option to make prints. If you make prints and keep them safe the same way you would your old came-from-a-film-negative prints, then you are reasonably good to go on that front, as far as preserving your memories. But with the digital photos, you have no film negative – so what if you want to make another print? You need the original digital photo. (You could make a copy from one of your prints—if you have any—but it wouldn’t be as good of quality because it’s really a copy of a copy; the digital is the original.)

So what should you do to protect those digital photos, to ensure that they will both exist, and be accessible to you, for a long time?

The Ohio Historical Society’s recent blog post “Tips for Saving Your Digital Photographs” (May 7, 2012) has lots of great general advice in regards to safeguarding your digital photographs. In addition to general tips on how and where to save your files, the post has advice about the best way to use CD-Rs as a backup method, file formats and naming, and making prints.

I am pleased to report that my personal practices in regards to digital photo preservation seem to fall within the recommendations made in that OHS blog post, so in Part 2, I will share the specific details of my digital photo preservation regimen.

But before I get into any minutiae, I want to drill one thing into your head. If you take nothing else away from this article, please, for the love of God, remember LOCKSS, an acronym meaning “Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe.”

Golden Rule of Saving Digital Content: Remember LOCKSS = Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe.

If you only have one copy of something, especially if that something is digital, I can almost guarantee you that at some point, you are going to lose it. It will not be a matter of “if” but a matter of “when” and “how.”

Ever had your hard drive or disk crash and just stop working with little or no warning? Had your computer zapped by lightning? Spilled a drink in your laptop? Had your computer get virus’d, hacked, or stolen? Lost your USB thumb drive? Had your camera or cell phone get lost or stolen? Dropped your camera or cell phone (perhaps into a body of water)? Left your electronics in the car on a hot day?

Yeah, that’s what I thought. Hey, you’re not alone. These things happen to the best of us. Now, the question is, the next time one of those things happens to you, how many of your precious memories will be lost along with your electronics?

Now that I’ve really got your attention, stay tuned for Part 2, and I’ll tell you exactly what I do to keep my photos safe from the disasters described above (and doubtless many that I can’t even think of right now).

Woodland Cemetery added to National Register of Historic Places

Woodland Cemetery is one of my favorite places in Dayton. I’ve always loved wandering around cemeteries (yes, I’m weird like that), and Woodland is just…amazing. But don’t just take my word for it:

Woodland’s awesomeness was recently recognized by the U.S. Department of the Interior, which, on Nov. 22, 2011, added Woodland’s 105-acre Victorian section to the National Register of Historic Places (see Dayton Daily News 12/14/2011 and 12/18/2011, also Woodland’s press release).

This is actually Woodland’s second entry on the National Register; the Romaneqsue style chapel (built in 1889) was added in 1978.

Woodland Cemetery opened in 1843—for more history of the cemetery, visit their web site or the Dayton Metro Library Local History Room—and since then has become the final resting place of many of Dayton’s most prominent citizens, including the Wright Brothers, Charles F. Kettering, Edward Deeds, John H. Patterson, and Benjamin Van Cleve.

However, according to the Dayton Daily News (12/18/2011):

Although remains of many prominent citizens are buried or rest in crypts at Woodland, [President and chief executive Dave] FitzSimmons said the Historic Register’s selection was based on the cemetery’s notable “curvilinear” design by landscape architect Adolph Strauch (1822-83), who took advantage of the vistas created by the rolling wooded terrain. He was a proponent of what came to be known as the Rural Garden Cemetery Movement.

The winding paths of Woodland are indeed a sight to behold. I have taken my camera to the cemetery a few times, usually looking for some particular grave, but I’m always amazed by the scenery in general. Without further adieu, here are some of my favorite scenes and “residents” of Woodland:

Panoramic view of Downtown Dayton from the Lookout Point

Panoramic view of Downtown Dayton from the Lookout Point

Van Cleve family

Van Cleve family

Benjamin Van Cleve held many important public positions, including clerk of courts, in the early days of Dayton. His son John W. Van Cleve was similarly important. (Check out the Van Cleve-Dover Collection at Dayton Metro Library.)

Charles G. Bickham grave

Charles G. Bickham grave

Charlie Bickham — son of Dayton Journal editor W. D. Bickham — served in the Spanish-American War and the Philippine-American War and was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor. He wasn’t bad to look at either. (Check out the Bickham Collection at DML.)

A. W. Drury grave

A. W. Drury grave

I’m probably throwing you a curve ball with this one. A. W. Drury wrote one of my favorite local history reference books: History of the City of Dayton and Montgomery County, Ohio, 2 vols. (1909).

Samuel and Sarah Forrer

Samuel and Sarah Forrer

Samuel Forrer was the Resident Engineer for the Miami-Erie Canal. To give you an idea of how important that made him to the project, here’s some trivia: when the canal opened in Dayton in 1829, “the Forrer” was the second canal boat to arrive, second only to the “Gov. Brown” (named for Ohio governor Ethan A. Brown who was a major influence in getting Ohio’s canal projects started). I am currently in the process of organizing the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (which you probably already know, if you’ve been reading my blog long!), which includes many of Samuel’s papers, as well as those of several of his descendants.

You were probably expecting me to show you the graves of some of more well-known “crowd pleasers” like the Wright Brothers, Dunbar, Johnny Morehouse, J. H. Patterson, Deeds, Kettering, Cooper, or even Zeigler. Oh, I have pics of most of those too (just click the links), but I said I wanted to highlight some of my “favorite” people. I suppose they become my favorites because I’ve “spent so much time with them” — or, with their writings, or their lives. I become very interested in the people whose “stuff” I am organizing. It’s hard not to; you’re basically reading their diary (sometimes literally).

And now, a couple more simple scenes:

Saint Mary's Catholic Church on Xenia Avenue

Saint Mary's Catholic Church on Xenia Avenue

Fall Foliage

Fall Foliage

And I have tons more…check out my Woodland Cemetery Flickr set to see the rest.