The great photograph archive project


How many photographs do you have? 10,000? 20,000? More? I don’t know how many we have but I do know my iPhoto library had crossed 20,000 and that wasn’t everything.

The problem statement is that over the years – decades – I have used lots of things to manage photographs. Picasa, Flickr, iPhoto, Dropbox, simple files and folders. Attempts have been made to migrate from thing to thing until, in the end, I went back to files and folders after reading Bradley Chambers’ optimistically titled but wonderful short Kindle book, Learning to Love Photo Management: Managing Photos In The Smart Phone Era.

After a non-trivial effort I normalized everything into a file structure based on year > month > event. This is the only way to manage a large library. Other tools should be used as editors only and under no circumstances should you surrender your library to an application. If you would like to manage your library entirely randomly, iPhoto is a great choice.

Then I had an epiphany. This is the second part.

You know that old shoebox of photographs you got given from some vague Great Aunt. You haven’t sorted it. You never will. And that shoebox contains a small fraction of the number of photographs in your digital dumpster.

Why are you keeping all these photographs around? Because digital storage is basically free. But it plays on your mind. You should back all of this up. “One day I will organize all this.”

Or perhaps you have more narcissistic motivations – photographs are sacred historical records! There was arguably once some legitimacy to that thought. After all in 1880 getting a photograph was a big deal. Even more recently one had to buy film and have pictures developed. We’re old. Today kids take hundreds every week – not even with a camera, but a phone.

In fact at the rate I’m going by the time I’m retired, dead, or in jail, I might be curating a library of hundreds of thousands – perhaps even a million – digital pictures. And then when I’ve had enough of this world and move on to better things, what am I going to do, leave a hard drive digital shoebox of photographs in my will for some relative to pawn off on another relative?

So what’s the epiphany? A photograph only has value when it’s shared. Photographs help to keep relationships alive, tell stories, build bridges, make us laugh, or feel something else. A photograph really is worth a thousand words. A photograph today is no longer a sacred relic. It’s more like a phone call.

Words unspoken, not worth speaking, or unspeakable, will be deleted. All others will be published.

So begins the great photograph archive project. I have been methodically going through, folder by folder, year by year and month by month, sorting, deleting and publishing what’s left into Flickr. The home of this great project is here.

Why Flickr?

First you get 1TB of storage for free and can upload the photographs in original format without any quality loss.

Second you can sort photographs into albums (my months) and collections of albums (my years).

For example:

Our photographs by year.
Our photographs by month.

Third, you can apply all sorts of metadata via tags. So you can tag photographs as “sunset,” or “snow,” or “beach,” or “alfred.” Why would you do this? Because you can then sort by tag, leading to the fourth benefit.

Fourth, you can turn your photographs into things like books or wall prints. For the last few years I have enjoyed giving photo books as gifts. A bit narcissistic but I think people enjoy them more than trinkets from So what if I wanted to make a book of Alfred prints? Show me all the #alfred tagged photographs and voila.

Fifth, I’m not sure if this is a real Flickr benefit or not, but a tool called Bulkr let’s you backup everything in Flickr locally. I don’t have any particular concerns with cloud storage but every now and then online services are hacked, go bankrupt, etc., and I’d hate all my photos to vaporize with no backup.

So the great photograph archive project is in full swing, with over 2,000 photographs shared and more from the digital shoebox every day.

– Anthony, Waukee, Iowa


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