05/24/2004: "Don't put all your (slides or CDs?) in one basket!"
A fellow artist co-worker told me about a fire at his apartment where he had one of those Sophie’s Choice moments; he had to decide between rescuing his cat or saving his portfolios which represented his entire life’s worth of work.
He chose his cat of course, although he had other artist friends tell him later that they couldn’t believe he chose an animal over his art. (they sound like the animals wouldn’t you agree?) Although, that reminds me of how words have such different meanings in different cultures. In our western culture, calling someone “an animal” means you think they are barbaric. In Tlingit culture, (one of many Alaskan Native tribes and the one indigenous to the Juneau/Douglas area) being considered an animal is the highest form of flattery. They see animals differently than most westerners, not as something to have dominion over (as in the Bible) but as wise and sacred members of the community. In many of their folk tales, boys or girls turn into animals in the end and it is a good and happy thing for them.
Anyway, I digress; the fire story reminded me of my own little tragedy. Many years ago my father was visiting me for my college graduation, which coincided with me moving to a new place. I had all of my canvases rolled up together and stored in a huge canvas bag (the kind that musicians use for transporting music stands). I had all of my original prints (I was a printmaking major) stored in a big box between layers of tissue paper. That bag and box represented, 6 years worth of work (ok, it took me more than 4 years to graduate but I also worked the whole time so cut me a little slack).
My dad was going to take them back to the house I grew up in, in O’Neill Nebraska, for safe keeping. Somehow my dad managed to lose both of them at the airport. I think he just forgot about them, that was never really made clear to me and it wasn’t until years later that I realized he didn’t have them in storage at his place.
Now, all through school my instructors really emphasized the importance of photographing your work but like so many of the young and reckless, I always assumed there would be plenty of time to do that later on. What few slides I had taken were in the box with the original prints. (my co-worker had stored his slides in the same place as his originals so when the fire destroyed the portfolios, it also took his slides).
So, it is a weird feeling to have many years worth of your own work wiped clean. I may have even written about this before, as it was a pretty traumatic event in my life.
My advice is to take lots of photos, digital as well as slides (most galleries still request slides although CDs are becoming more accepted, see this article from theartweblog called Sildes vs. Digital Images by Caryn Coleman) and keep the slides and CDs in a couple different locations just in case. I can’t remember much of what I did in school, and what I do remember I’m sure looks 10 times worse than how I remember it. I would love to be able to look back and see all the stuff I did in school, but it’s too late for that now.
Also, I have work currently that I only took digital photos of work that I'm no longer in posession of. I naively thought at the time that it would be OK because I had posted images on my website so I believed that I at least had a digital record of the work. What I later realized is that all the images, even the large ones, were optimized for the web, meaning 72 ppi. That’s a very low resolution image, which is great for displaying work on a website, but if you ever want to include one of those images in a promotional brochure or make gift cards from it etc…it’s too low resolution to print out.
A website I’ve mentioned before called Zazzel will let you set up a little marketplace for yourself where you can use your images to make cards, posters, and other products. They only will print at 200ppi (pixels per square inch).
The images that you upload will be converted to 200ppi (pixels per inch) if not already at this resolution. This means every 200 pixels in your image will become 1 inch when printed. For example, if you submit a 800 pixel by 1000 pixel image for a card product, it will be printed at 4" by 5". This is because: 800 pixels divided by 200 pixels/inch = 4 inches, 1000 pixels divided by 200 pixels/inch = 5 inches.”
So very few of the images that I have in digital format can be used for making cards or printing out for other various purposes. It is recommended to optimize your digital photos for web display but remember to KEEP a copy of the larger sized original digital image, whether it is one you had scanned or one that you took photos of. When you set up your digital camera, make sure your settings are set to the largest and highest res setting possible.
And while we’re on the topic of no longer having works of art in your possession, it’s always a good idea to have people who purchase your work fill out a contract with you, including current contact information so you always know who has each of your works of art. That way if you need to have the piece back for a special exhibit or you need to reshoot your slides, etc. you’ll know who has the item, you’ll have a contract saying that you reserve the right to reclaim the work for said purposes, and you’ll know how to contact the person.