Question: Ever wondered where all the images for those huge LomoWalls come from? Read on to discover the secrets of the Lomography Archive, a collection of over 600,000 analogue images!
The word “Archive” derives from “Archon”, a word used to describe an ancient Greek chief magistrate. Archives are similar to libraries but the difference lies in their function – “Archival records are normally unpublished and almost always unique, unlike books or magazines for which many identical copies exist.” 1 But what should definitely happen in both Libraries and Archives is the most difficult thing to achieve: To keep everything in order, clean & tidy. This is one of the ever-present challenges for us who work in the LWA (Lomography World Archive).
I must confess that the Lomography Archive does not provide the most beautiful scene at first view, but reveals a tremendous elegancy when you dive into it. It may seem like an easy task to organise photo envelopes but it becomes a nightmare when you’re dealing with 20,50,100 of them, collected from various people for various projects, boxes with negatives, prints and nowadays scans as well. You are suddenly encountering problems you never knew existed. Most of the problems in the Lomography Archive have to do with finding images according to some theme/topic – This usually ends up with looking through thousands of shots. This still sounds easy but things get a lot harder when you also have to look for the corresponding negative (e.g. to get a hi-res scan): What was the original name/number of the envelope with the negative? Where is the box with the envelope? And finally, when you have found box and envelope, the last question: Why is exactly the one negative missing you are looking for?
This is an extreme situation and doesn’t happen very often but can lead to several sneeze attacks as little clouds of dust are raised. And there is always a reason for something missing, a little story on its own…
The most important thing for an archive is not only the storage but also the way of accessing information. This is somewhat easier for written information in comparison to an image that not only has bibliographic information (who/when/where), but also image content. You know the saying “an image says more than thousand words”. You can still use tags to describe the image but you never come close to describe how the image really looks and the archive crew often has to look for something that`s describing feelings or moods instead of clear keywords.
But how is it possible to find those images?
Nobody could ever imagine how big the Lomography archive could become – It grew like a plant over time, forming branches and spin-offs, depending on the person being in charge of it. It is an organic archive and lots of information is stored in the brains of people and it’s not possible to get hold of this information without the help of them. After seeing all the shots over and over again you start to remember who took which kind of shots.
And what’s actually stored in the LWA?
Employees images. The people from the archive/lab know what the colleagues do on weekends, where they hang out in the evenings (half of it is obvious as LSI peeps also spend a lot of time together outside the office). This is also a great responsibility, a burden you have to carry as you have to respect (at least a bit of) privacy and when selecting images – It’s of utmost importance not to choose any embarrassing or compromising shots.
Every roll of film that is processed through the archive (yes we do a development service and yes we do it in-house now on our own minilab) and not marked as confidential is stored on our servers. There was a time when all negatives were kept in the archive, mainly for one reason: back in the days, reprints were done from negatives, this meant a lot of extra work when it came to Lomowalls. But this changed a lot through the shift from pure analog photography to the digital era. Nowadays it`s easy to send some hundred files to a lab and get prints done. 10 years ago a Lomowall with 10,000 images was big – now we are doing bigger ones with 150,000 single prints.
Speaking of numbers, currently there are 340Gb, 612,000 images stored straight away on the server, plus some hundred GB formed by selections, rumbles, projects,…
And the offline archive, well… it’s full of boxes, prints, negatives, CDs, folders, print outs, copies, books, cameras, dust, gimmicks, notes etc.
The move from analogue to digital storage also had a significant influence on the way things are stored. In the beginning there was just basic information on the envelopes, mainly year/month, lomographer, sometimes the location or if it was some special event. Many years ago selections were made out of these envelopes (prints) and kept in separate boxes, sometimes in a not-so-clear way, so we now have nice examples of how-to-not archive things: Boxes named “various envelopes without numbers, without year”, “1994 – photos without numbers”, “various negatives + photos”. Fortunately, this is just the exception. Most of the boxes are named as they should be.
Later on, after a color photo copier was installed, selections were copied and kept in folders. When you were looking for images you could browse through these folders and mark the ones you need with a post it. Obviously a better way than to mess around with the original boxes. Today it’s somehow similar, except that it’s all happening on a screen. The big advantage is the easy handling of the images – You can copy them, use filenames and tags to search for images, filter by certain criteria. But we are always aware of one thing: it doesn’t take much to lose everything. A simple power blackout makes it hard to work with digital copies so it’s always good to know there is a negative behind.