They say hindsight is 20-20 and celebrity/lifestyle photographer Jim Jordan has clearly learned that lesson the hard way. Last November, Jordan’s image backup system went down unexpectedly, wiping out his entire digital archive. The event, which he refers to as “the meltdown,” knocked out his onsite RAID backup system, endangering some 100,000 stored images.
“I was in jeopardy of losing pretty much 25 years of my photographs,” Jordan says. “My whole archive was there, aside from my hard copies. It could’ve been a disaster.”
What makes the event even more ironic was that Jordan had been planning for months to overhaul his backup system to prevent just such an occurrence when his RAID went down.
Luckily, he was able to salvage his entire archive with the help of Skip Lancaster, a self-described Information Architect, whom Jordan had been working with to revamp his backup system before the meltdown.
Label it a “lesson learned,” and a message to Jordan and Lancaster to put the rebuilding of his backup on the front burner. “Fortunately, we were able to recover it all,” says Jordan, who’s photographed the likes of Drew Barrymore, Leonardo DiCaprio, Charlize Theron, and Nicholas Cage, and has an advertising clientele including Vogue, J. Crew, American Express, and Mercedes-Benz.
“The goal now is to implement a system that’s safe so we don’t have to repeat this nightmare.”
From the Ground Up
In choosing to partner with Skip Lancaster on the project, Jordan picked someone who knows a thing or two about cataloging information. He’s done extensive digital archiving work with several notable museums and organizations including the Van Gogh Museum, the Andy Warhol Museum, the San Diego Museum of Art and the New York Transit Authority. Lancaster has already developed a proven system for media management for music videos through a side project called “Ear Drum Buzz.” The goal while working with Jordan was to take the video media management system of Ear Drum Buzz and bring to a more static field like digital photography.
“We needed to redesign the system to meet the needs of the photographer,” Lancaster says. “So I decided to build Jim’s system from the ground up.”
The centerpiece of Lancaster’s concept is the Digital Media Container, or DMC. Though it sounds like an actual object, the DMC exists only in the Xs and Os of computer code and will serve the purpose of wrapping Jordan’s images in what Lancaster calls “virtual bubble wrap.” The DMC might be better described as a “digital security blanket.” In the event of a future problem with Jordan’s back-up system, the DMC will ensure that all the metadata surrounding each of Jim’s images—ISO, color temperature, time of day it was shot, etc.—remains intact.
One of the biggest problems with data recovery is not always that the images get destroyed. That is actually harder to do than it seems. It’s that each image’s vital metadata usually gets wiped clean, even in a minor system crash. Under Lancaster’s DMC, that should be a non-issue.
The DMC is also designed for version tracking, so metadata won’t be lost when Jordan’s images are, for instance, shared with clients and inadvertently changed.
Watching Your Back
Another lesson learned from the November meltdown was that having one onsite backup RAID system for storing your images is a risky proposition, at best. Along with an onsite Apple RAID—which is backed up throughout the day at Jordan’s studios in Los Angeles and New York—Lancaster has helped implement an Internet-accessible, off-site server for end-of-day backups, and a separate off-site storage system using external firewire hard drives for monthly backups. “So the upshot is, if the worst happens and a fire takes out Jim’s studios, we would only lose the last 24 hours,” says Lancaster.
He’s quick to emphasize, though, that the system he’s creating with Jordan is more than just for backups. It also includes a Media Production Pipeline component that will track and manage everything from the actual creation of Jordan’s images to the selling of them to their eventual publication.
He’s built the system around Apple Script so it will work seamlessly with existing programs such as Photoshop. “You won’t know where my system ends and another application begins,” Lancaster notes.