|Editing doesn't mean only casting aside older photos. This image had certain attributes that made it high priority, and it has an important legacy, as well. The 1991 photo shows Todd Skinner, a climber who was tragically killed in a 2006 accident on a tower that's also visible in the photo.|
Editing your photography and deciding what you should keep or what gets sent to the trash is something we photographers do all the time. If you don't edit your work up front, it can quickly accumulate, and the megabytes will overflow your hard drives and worse. I recently discovered worse when relocating my office/studio to my new home in Tucson, Arizona. When preparing for the move, I discovered thousands of photo slides I had committed to limbo years ago. These slides were the remains from editing dozens of assignments; all the slides were still in yellow or white slide boxes and are sharp and well lit, but just didn't get pulled in the initial edits. Instead, these rejects were stored away. Apparently, I did this for years because there are a lot of storage crates filled with slide boxes.
Moving an entire photo business means moving the photo archive, as well. That's no problem, as I have all of my select photos categorized, sleeved and in hanging files. It was simple enough to move those dozen file cabinets. The problem was the thousands of boxes of edited slides still in the slide boxes that had accumulated in my storage room, where they remained out of sight and out of mind for many years.
These slide boxes were well stored, sealed in Ziplocs®, then placed in plastic crates two or three crates high in several rows in the darkest corner of the storage room of my Colorado studio. The crates I discovered contained thousands of slides from dozens of photo stories and expeditions I had worked on from 1988 until around 2006 when I switched to shooting in digital. I figured there were some 50,000 slides in those boxes, maybe twice that.
I've never considered myself a hoarder, but the crates seemed like clear evidence of that sort of behavior. Like a hoarder, my rationale for keeping these thousands of outtakes is that I might have a need for them later. But, really, it was just fear that I might toss out something good; yep, that must be a hoarder's way of thinking. The move of my photos and studio to Tucson was a good excuse to set things right, clean house and clear out the backlog.
Before I did any serious editing, I checked for any helpful hints on the web. The Library of Congress advice was to edit images by importance. Other sources were concerned mostly with archiving digital materials, which can be an unstable platform to store information long term, while the transparencies I stored are a relatively stable medium. In editing the outtakes, I kept it simple, keeping images that had a recognizable landmark, personality or had other qualities that placed some personal value on the image.
I was rewarded with the discovery of some true gems. One of the keepers pulled from the reject crates was this image of rock climber Todd Skinner greeting the morning from a portaledge. This image was taken on the west face of El Capitan about 3,000 feet off the valley floor in late April 1991. The image was made at a time when Todd was setting new standards in free climbs in North America and around the world. In 2006, Todd was tragically killed in a climbing fall on the Leaning Tower, a cliff that's plainly visible from this ledge. This image shares many of the qualities of the other images I decided to keep. It's technically of high quality, it's of a recognizable person and location, and this slide even has the year and month stamped on the slide mount. All of this combined to give the image a historical legacy and make it a worthy keeper.
The editing task is ongoing as I write this, with only three crates left to edit. I figure that when I'm done I'll have saved less than 1% of the original pile of slides. The purging has left me bleary-eyed, but with a better appreciation of why it's important to keep up with your photo editing. I also learned that a little age could improve one's appreciation for old photos that might have gone to the trash can. I don't plan to digitize these additional saved transparencies since digital mediums are ever changing while transparencies are a fairly stable medium. I think I'll only digitize the slides when I need a duplicate or have to send an image off for publication, as I did for this column.
To see more of Bill Hatcher's photography, visit www.billhatcher.com.