New Catalog or Not?

I collected masses of digital images well before I had a system for organizing them. Over the years I’ve tried various methods, and settled on keeping “negatives” in date-based folders, and then copying them into my current Lightroom catalog. By “current” catalog I mean I have a catalog for each calendar year. But I also have special catalogs for various reasons, mostly related to client work. One client: one catalog.

While this made sense when Lightroom had issues with large catalogs, now I’m not so sure. The system that prepares the images for this website lives in two different catalogs (one for the Portfolio section, and a separate one for the images in the posts), but the source images might be from yet another catalog (such as my School catalog which lives on a portable drive).

Part of my process is ok: ingest the files into date-based folders and back them up.1 It’s the catalog management that I’m struggling with. In certain software development methodologies, there is a maxim “Don’t Repeat Yourself.” There’s a lot packed into that three word phrase, with its connotations of software efficiency and bug reduction, but for this case it’s a straightforward “don’t have the same image in two catalogs.” I’m guilty of not heeding this primarily because of how I choose to bring images to this website.

But with a new year and a few weeks before the next term starts, I have a great opportunity to revisit this “system” (now in scare quotes because I’m not so sure it is a system).

One thing I can do is just not start a new catalog for 2016, and continue to use my existing one. But the question remains: should I consolidate my other (non client) catalogs into it? Having a portfolio catalog is useful only in that it’s a subset of images that I like very much. I could do the same work with keywords and collections in my everyday catalog. Then I wouldn’t have to export mini-catalogs for images I want to share on my website. Except I would still if I’m sharing classwork, because that lives in its own catalog. Drat. I’m just going to go over here and chase my tail for a while.

<much time passes>

Don’t let anyone tell you that photography is just about making “purdy pitchers.”2 For people who use snapshots as memory aids, perhaps whatever Apple decides is the right way to do it is enough. As a professional I need to consider what I will be doing with my images and how I will be finding them far into the future.

I don’t have any answer right now. As you’ve no doubt realized, I use this space to think-by-writing-it-down. There is something about the semi-public nature of this site (few people visit; fewer read it — this I know even without having analytics) that encourages this presentation of not-entirely-baked ideas. It’s committing art in public, I guess, with all the missteps and backtracks and not-quite-rights that entails. I’m trying to do it with my images, too, but I’m less successful at that than with words. I’m hoping one day I will be more facile with all of it.

None of this actually answers the question posed in the title, though. I think I’ll invoke another three-word maxim “Principle of Postponement” (this time from industrial engineering). This one implies that I know I will have to make a decision, but I don’t have to do it right now.

  1. Having the original images separate from the catalog images works for me, because it gives me a belt-and-suspenders feeling for my files. Once the images are in those folders, they get backed up. If I import them into a catalog, they are copied, not moved nor added. If I had never lost a file due to a hard drive problem I might not have done it this way. However, if I lose my catalog, I can at least have the “originals” to work with again. 

  2. And with that you have some idea of my accent, upbringing, and socio-economic status.