Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Then One Day The Smithsonian Called: Why You Should Always Save And Archive Your Work!

Well, it took a while, but one of my photos is finally in the Smithsonian.

It's true. I tell you no lie...

Now, it is not in the permanent collection and on display in a museum in Washington, DC for all the world to see. I wish. Rather, it's a portrait I shot of painter Carlos Alfonzo in December, 1990, originally appearing in the publication Miami New Times Newspaper. And it will be used as part of a printed catalog to coincide with the exhibit:

 Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art.

My photo of artist Carlos Alfonso (Cuban, 1950-1991) in his Miami studio, 1990.
Now, I am not the most organized guy in the world, and when it comes to my photography, I have a whole mish-mash of storage systems. Most of my digital work is, of course, logically filed on hard drives and on discs. Oh, and for the most part, key worded. Finding things in the computer age is not usually a problem.

It's my film originals that I probably need to work on a bit. Fortunately, many of my older negatives are neatly stored in chronological order in binders with their labeled proof sheets, and yes, the bulk of my color film slides are in boxes or pages, generally safe, in one searchable place.

Good thing, too.

Because one fine day, I was minding my own business, when out-of-the-blue came an email from an Emma Stratton, Permissions Coordinator, Smithsonian American Art Museum. Now when Ms. Stratton comes a calling on behalf of the Smithsonian, you pay attention.

And so, I paid attention...

And what she asked me oh-so-politely was if she could use my image of Alfonso for the upcoming Smithsonian exhibition catalog. Luckily, she had seen it used before in another catalog for another exhibition at the Miami Art Museum in 1997.

Obviously, I said yes. That was the easy part...

So, after agreeing to the deal, and excitedly shouting to anyone within earshot, I actually had to get down to business. I needed to track down the original negative, make a quality scan, create a digital file in photoshop, edit and retouch that file, then output it in a size and format that met their specifications for the printed catalog. Oh, and get it to them.

All on deadline...

In the end, it was not all that difficult, but without finding that original negative fairly quickly, I most likely would have been screwed.

Which brings me to my point: you need to develop a system of organizing and cataloging your images as you go along. Something that makes sense when you're trying to find an individual photo many many years after it's been shot.

Now, I had no way of knowing that Carlos Alfonso would sadly die not long after he sat for my camera. Nor could I ever imagine what his place and fame would be in the context of Hispanic and American art, or what the demand would be for a picture of him many years later.

But, because I was disciplined enough over the years to keep most of the rolls of film I shot together in pages with their proof sheets in books chronologically in a protected cabinet, I immediately and confidently told Emma Stratton I could send her artwork. I knew it would not take me long to find the negatives from our 1990 portrait session, even in the year 2013, and it didn't.

In this digital age, it is very tempting to simply live for the moment, shoot what we want when we want, and assume the computer will keep it all organized. In a perfect world, maybe, but if you value your work, you really owe it to yourself to pay much more attention to organizing and archiving your images in a way that makes sense.

After all, you never know when someone from the Smithsonian will come knocking on your door...