Bettmann archive (aka Bill's Corbis images) moves to safer storage.
April 16, 2001 2:52 PM   Subscribe

Bettmann archive (aka Bill's Corbis images) moves to safer storage. Corbis is renting a mine to house the photo archive and slow deterioration. The point in this article that bothered me was the news that Corbis stopped digitizing this archive in January after a round of layoffs. Fewer than 2 percent of the collection is digitized and the new location makes it even less accessible. Will they just deteriorate slowly away and never be preserved in bits? The Corbis press release sounds more hopeful.
posted by girlhacker (8 comments total)
My math is probably way off, but wouldn't the money spent on renting and construction the storage facility in the mine be about the same (plus or minus a few million) as the cost of scanning the images? Also, 25 years to scan the images? with what? A monkey operating the scanner :) It seems like it's not worth saving the pictures if they can never be seen...
posted by the_ill_gino at 3:25 PM on April 16, 2001

There has been alot written at and about these issues. Peter Howe left Corbis recently over this type of problem, which is roughly:

1. Big corporation buys up everything it can without understanding the field.

2. Gets concerned with making a profit, stops scanning archive, cuts costs.

3. Creative people, ad people, editors, have less choice than before of what images they can use.

4. We end up with less quality and diversity of images available.
posted by chrismc at 3:37 PM on April 16, 2001

Do the math. This isn't a Fotomat. When I try to scan an image it typically takes me 10-15 minutes to get the positioning correct, eliminate moirés, and adjust the colors (in my case for end-result, but in this case probably for fidelity).

One person, working 1500 hours at scanning, taking great archival care, could probably scan perhaps 4 images an hour. That's 6000 per year per person. Make it 6500 to be generous and round the numbers. This means 10,000 person-years to scan the entire collection.

If you had a hundred people, it would still take a century.
posted by dhartung at 6:24 PM on April 16, 2001

I did the math, and as I said, "My math is probably way off". 4 images an hour still seems awfully slow. I'm thinking maybe 10-15 images an hour, times about 2000 kinko's staff at $5.00/hour (no benefits) will be cheaper than an underground nuclear bunker. But, again... my math is probably way off...
posted by the_ill_gino at 7:20 PM on April 16, 2001

The Mercury News chopped off a bit of the second half of the original NYT article. There was also a short sidebar piece. Lastly, there's Iron Mountain's official site - I'd love to take a tour of it.
posted by gluechunk at 7:28 PM on April 16, 2001

10-15 a hour? These aren't little snapshots that they're carelessly scanning in at 72 dpi and then slapping on a webpage.
posted by gluechunk at 7:31 PM on April 16, 2001

Yeah, i guess 10-15 an hour is high for quality scans. I still don't like to think that it's not possible to back up these images.
posted by the_ill_gino at 7:59 PM on April 16, 2001

Well, welcome to the real (artifact) world. There's only so many original copies of the Constitution, after all. The storage is the better option, especially if digitizing work has slowed down.

As I said, archival (forever) quality is called for, and transport and handling of the originals demands care and time. For instance, there's likely paperwork that accompanies each and every scan. You don't want to mix your Weegees with your Wegmans. You're using cotton gloves. You may be cleaning your equipment to prevent spreading fungi.

I was glad to see that they've already performed a triage operation, to cull the most significant individual images even from larger collections. But ultimately having those larger collections is also important, for future historians and social researchers looking for stories that aren't told on the famous days. I do concur with the critics who ask why it all needs to go to such an inaccessible location.
posted by dhartung at 1:02 AM on April 17, 2001

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