on shoeboxes and hoarding

Duncan just wrote an interesting post on the decline of photographic editing. Not pixel-mashing editing, but selecting and critiquing. cringe curating.

Duncan is a professional photographer, who does some amazing work. He works with other professional photographers, who hang out with other professionals. And, apparently, they’re all noticing the same thing. Less actual editing of photos. Finding the best and tossing the crap.

In the olden days, it cost money to take, process and print every photo. But that cost put a limit on the number of photos taken (for most people). Which further meant that editing was more feasible. Fewer photos, easier editing.

But, photos took physical space as well. A shoebox could hold maybe a couple hundred photos. Past that, and you start moving into filing cabinet territory. Past that, and you start renting storage lockers, etc… Storing tens of thousands of photos was something done by museums or media companies.

Now, everyone can trivially store as many photos as they can take, forever, without taking any space outside the hard drive stuffed in their shiny computer.

I can’t generalize, but for me, that essentially limitless and infinite repository makes it harder to delete photos. There is no real reason to do so. The photos won’t start spilling over the tabletop. I’m not going to appear on an episode of some godawful TLC show because I have tens of thousands of photos stored in my home.

Deleting a photo is now a simple willful act. The only reason to do it is to say “I want this photograph to no longer exist.” But, what if that photo becomes meaningful later? What if that particular frame captured something that the “good” one didn’t? What if my son needs a few blurry frames from a childhood summer vacation, to finish some future project? What’s the incentive to delete a photo?

I try to delete obvious crap. But I find I keep non-good versions, buried in stacks under the “good” ones in Aperture. Just in case. But why? Will the alternate versions ever see the light of day? Is it some silly documentarian obsession?

My Aperture library is currently holding 24,926 photographs. About 3,000 of those are alternates that could easily be deleted. Probably many thousand others could be deleted without ever being noticed. Why keep them? Is it just the unpleasant and time consuming task of combing through the archive?

Aperture stacks stars

I’ve been using metadata to avoid deleting too much. Star ratings (no stars = crap. 1 star = not crap. 2 stars = ok. etc… 5 stars = good), stacks, and flags. Maybe the tools for managing photographic archives have made deleting obsolete? Maybe I need to stop using the tools as a crutch to avoid honestly critiquing my photos? Maybe I’m over thinking this, too?

Then again, there’s a banker’s box buried on a shelf in my basement storage room, stuffed with decades worth of photos that haven’t been seen in decades…

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