August 1998
By Samuel Greengard
“Photography is going digital and there's no turning back. Storing images electronically is the future of the profession," observes veteran Burt Glinn. Not exactly the words you might expect to hear from a 72‑year‑old legend who made his reputation shooting film. But Glinn is convinced that digital storage and distribution will become a mainstream of the photography world over the next few years. In fact, he's so committed to the idea that he's archiving his own work and building an elaborate distribution system through the New York office of Magnum Photos.

And he's not alone. A growing number of well‑established photographers are archiving their life's work digitally. They're scanning images into vast databases, using specialized soft­ware to index the files, and then building Web sites or gen­erating scan books on the fly to provide samples of their work more quickly and less expensively than ever before. 'It's changing the business side of the equation," says New York City photographer Joel Meyerowitz, who has upward 35,000 images stored electronically. Adds Mary Mark, who has a 22,500 image bank as well as a Web site showing her books and fine art prints: "It's generating more sales and creating greater efficiency.”

These three photographers, all wily veterans, are rethinking the way they do business. Although they continue to pursue the art of photography using conventional cameras and methods, they are reinventing the way ther index, store and deliver images.




One of the acknowledged pioneers of digital archiving is Mark, whose images have appeared in hundreds of magazine articles and ads, as well as fine‑art books. Over a decade ago, she recognized that it was becoming excruciatingly difficult to keep track of tens of thousands of photographs. "We recognized that we had to get organized and there was no way to do it with traditional filing methods," says Mark. So, together with her husband Martin Bell, they built a system for storing and retrieving Mark's photos on a Compaq ProLiant server running a Novell Network.

Today, Mark has stored almost 23,000 images electronically on the Compaq's 10‑giga‑byte hard drive. After she identifies a group of images to include in the database, they're scanned in using an Epson 836XL (which offers 800 x 1600 dpi, 36‑bit color scanning on a tabloid‑size 12.2 x 17.2‑inch area). The SilverSoft program that comes with the scanner offers high‑quality batch scanning, according to Bell. Since Mark's images are mostly black and white, they are stored at 150 dpi in Macintosh PICT format. The average file size is 300 kb.

Then they are indexed with Extensis Portfolio software (formerly known as Fetch, when it was marketed by Aldus and then Adobe), which runs on both Macintosh and PC platforms. Although Mark has always used an elaborate numerical indexing system, which, among other things, identifies a project as corporate, advertising or personal, she now supplements that system with keyword indexing for the digital archive. Using a standardized set of keywords‑typically five to ten per image‑her staff can later find a particular photo or group of images within seconds. All photographs are indexed, and those that aren't scanned into the system remain in boxes and can also be located using the same index.

Later, when a potential customer is looking for, say, teenage homeless girls from the Eighties, it's possible to pull up all the images from any of 15 PCs and Macs running on the network. It's also possible to view more than 400 images (all watermarked using Digimarc) from the photographer's Web site (‑which is run from an outside, leased server. After entering a password, a photo researcher can use a keyword search to sort through images. There are also links to Mark's books and prints (including pricing), and exhibitions.

'The Web site isn't designed to be particularly fancy. It's designed to sell photographs and give new life to books that are out of print. In some cases, people see images and want to purchase a print," she explains. Later this year, Mark hopes to put her entire digital archive on‑line. She uses Adobe PageMill on a Windows NT server to create the Web pages.

The database and Web site are creating a more efficient way for Mark to conduct business. "Instead of creating 20 work prints and sending them all over the world, we can create inexpensive scan books and send them out immediately.” That saves a tremendous amount of time and money. For example, when Mother Jones recently contacted her for an article about interesting stories that had never been published, Mark was able to send them within hours more than 40 scans of a previous project about dogs. She says, "We could never have done that using conventional tools."

At this point, Mark's staff spends a few hours a week scanning in new photos and adding them to the archive. The database is backed up every night. And she also uses Digimarc's Marc Spider, a special program to scan the Web to search out copyright infringements based on digital watermarks that show up on other sites.