06 December, 2007

Photographic Wabi-Sabi

One of the blessings of moving from traditional film photography to the digital medium is that there is no longer any cost (in time or money) associated with taking photographs. Whereas previously one would have been circumspect with using the shutter-button for fear of wasting film, now there is no such consideration.

In fact, we usually take photographs in "burst mode" now, such that a sequence of three or four photographs are taken in rapid succession, in order to increase the likelihood that at least one will not suffer from blurring, closed eyelids, and other events that would otherwise ruin a good photograph. Also, this lack of circumspection means that we tend to take photographs of more subjects.

Combined with the ever-increasing size of digital snaps, this all results in a very, very large collection of photographs. Our collection was getting so large that we simply didn't have the energy to look through it. Most of the photographs were just plain low quality. We selected certain favourites and put them into a separate folder, but the majority of the collection sat around collecting binary dust.

Recently having discussed the clutter-free ideals of wabi-sabi living, it seemed inevitable that our sprawling collection of photographs would face the same scrutiny as had our collections of books, teas, and clothing.

Over the course of a few week-ends, we pruned away the massive array of redundant or unpleasant shots in our collection, and reduced it in size from 12 GB to around 800 MB - it now fits onto a USB memory stick. The result is a high-quality collection which is a pleasure to peruse, far removed from the low-quality, high-clutter affair from before.


I always assumed that my tea photographs were "above the law". I habitually photograph every new tea I encounter (capturing its wrapper, leaves, brew, and so on). Though this made for a truly enormous folder of photographs, I considered it essential reference material.

Lei asked me the function of this huge folder of tea pictures.

Confidently, I replied, "Of course, it's my reference material for my previous teas!"

She asked me how often I consulted it. Indeed, if I had ever consulted it. Especially seeing as the majority of my tea-notes on the Half-Dipper are accompanied by photographs, which was one of my purposes for creating the web-site in the first place.

My shoulders slumped as I saw the inevitable about to occur.

Here follows "before" and "after" screenshots of my tea folder. Click on the small photographs to look at them in detail - pay particular attention to the size of the scroll-bars on the right of each window...

(click for larger image)

(click for larger image)

Despite the initial pain of separation, the result is strangely liberating. All that remains are the photographs that I truly love and enjoy looking at, so that the collection now has a purpose. I had no idea just how many useless and just plain awful photographs were contained in that huge pile: most looked like the equivalent of police interrogation shots, with the subject brutally photographed under dazzling lights.

It's hard to let go... but it feels great afterwards.

Give it a whirl. You have nothing to lose but your low-quality piles of "stuff". It's rather liberating.


小 約翰 said...

David, digital .. the more you take, the lower cost.
I have a two terabyte RAID system, and need more storage. john

MarshalN said...

I've cleaned house before when it comes to tea pictures, although I sitll keep a significant number of them because, yes, I've actually consulted them on occasion. :)

David Lesseps said...

Thanks to you, I spent 6 hours this morning weeding my photo archive. I originally had 4457 photos on my hard-drive and now I've trimmed it to just shy of 2000.

Along with the pleasure of regaining storage space, I had the great experience of looking through all the photos I've taken of my son since his birth. I got to see him age from minutes-old newborn in my arms to the mature 3 and 3/4 year old he is now. A much enjoyed time of reflection.

Thank you for providing the incentive.

Hobbes said...

Dear John,

2 TB is a lot of data, to be sure - probably as much as my entire doctoral studies have accumulated, and my field is the analysis of large datasets... Is it tricky to keep track of what you've got? I get lost after the first 100 MB worth of files!

Dear MarshalN,

Reference material is certainly A Good Thing; I'm hiding my "Research" folders from the wabi-sabi process, which contain zillions of academic papers in PDF - I can't lose my "library". :)

Dear Dave,

Ah, the wedding photos! Well, it's good to hear that you've taken the plunge. Wedding photos are particularly hard, because you really want to remember as much as possible about your "special day". We eventually realised that having three or four photographs of the same subject was a bit unnecessary, though, and managed to trim it a bit. Like you, we kept a lot, though - I think our wedding folder contains the most remaining of all.

One of the great aspects about trimming a collection isn't just the fact that you're revisiting - it makes you more likely to come back and do it again in future, because you're not scared off by the overwhelmingly large quantity of dross. That was a big factor in keeping me out of my photo collection...

Toodlepip all,


toki said...

burning dvd after saving jpegs contact sheets is my way to control the massive archives. I can then trash all the wabi on the drive before they crash my HD the 2nd times....

Proinsias said...

I'm sure there is a little Zen master hiding in you desperately trying to hit you with his staff for hiding your research folder.