Friday, 21 August 2015

Access Denied

One of the Ultimate Things happened to me this last week.  An external backup drive failed.  I'm still assessing the damage, but I think it's edging towards "inconvenient" rather than "disastrous".

It was my own silly, complacent fault.  In recent years I have tried to run a quadruple backup routine: internal hard drive, two external drives, plus intermittent DVD copies.  This broke down somewhat when (a) one of the two external drives became full (those 16 megapixel files fill up a drive quicker than you think), and (b) I needed urgently to replace my PC.  Somehow, somewhere in the confusion of retirement, some hospital treatment stretched intermittently over a couple of months, and swapping system components around, I failed to ensure that all files were being properly copied between the old PC, the new PC, the remaining active external drive, and onto DVDs, and had got into the very bad habit of using the single external drive as the main active drive for converting raw files and working them up in Photoshop during the period when the old internal hard drive was too full for comfort.

Inevitably, I suppose, it was that external drive that failed.  A local data recovery firm has managed to retrieve a mere 30% of its contents (one terabyte in all).  I had probably made things worse by running the "chkdsk" utility on it.  So it goes.  Luckily, many if not most of the raw files are backed up elsewhere, so it's just the final versions of work done in the last year and before the new PC came into operation that have vanished.  "Just"...

My biggest stroke of counter-balancing luck was finding an almost complete set of the photographs made during my Innsbruck residency last summer still residing on the laptop I had taken with me.  Phew.  Inexplicably, I seemed to have no other backup copy of those files.  I cannot understand how I seem to have failed to make any other copies of that work; it's a mystery.  Without that bit of luck, the entire lot would have been lost, a sobering thought.  As it is, to reprint or revisit any older work (for example, I had been toying with the idea of re-designing the Pentagonal Pool book) I will have to identify and find each individual original file in the set and reconvert it, a very tedious task indeed.

So, be warned.  In the wisest words concerning the failure of hard drives: it's not a question of "if", but "when"...  And make sure everything valuable is in at least two places.

Or not.  The whole thing gave me pause for thought.  Here am I, sitting like a dragon on my precious image-hoard, about which no-one else really cares very much.  Sure, from time to time I get asked to show some work, and occasionally sell the odd book or print, but I don't think I'm on course for a late-life burst of global celebrity.*  What's more, thinking ahead, I'd hate for my kids to inherit the task of deciding what to do with several terabytes of undifferentiated image files...  Are they e-junk or might they yet become a gold mine?  It's the curse of Vivian Maier!

I could easily reduce that hoard to the selected and sequenced images in my various books and shown in various exhibitions, together with a generous "family album" plus a hundred or more uncollected favourites for luck, and still have room on a 32 gigabyte USB stick.  That would certainly be a whole lot easier to back up.  The books exist in multiple hard copies, and will outlive both me and Blurb; I also have decent exhibition prints of most of the good stuff.  If I did lose all the other electronic files, it could be a blessing in disguise.

I should remind myself of my own words, read out (in a German rendering) at my Innsbruck opening last year:
It is important to emphasise that I regard photography primarily as a process, not as an outcome.  I photograph every day – in my lunch-hour, on the way from the car-park to my office – in the same way that a musician practices scales.  I recommend this: try to find photographs where you are, and never wait to be where you wish you were.  As they say, "Wherever you go, there you are".

The 80 or so images you see on the walls here are a by-product of this primary activity of creative seeing, not its purpose.  A relatively small by-product, too.  I show photographs constantly as a "work in progress" on the Web via my blog.  There have been over 2000 images posted there since 2008.  Two thousand: that's an average of five a week.  Again, I recommend this sustained level of productivity: I believe firmly in Malcolm Gladwell's "10,000 hours".  Or, as Henri Cartier-Bresson put it long before Gladwell, "your first 10,000 photographs are your worst"...
Ten thousand photographs?  That's about 250 gigabytes...

* Do feel free to correct me, if you have good reason to believe I'm wrong...

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