Nothing, according to Bradley Daigle, is as potent as a picture. Nothing. Photographs, paintings, engravings and prints evoke in all of us strong emotions, from joy and delight to fear and loathing. “People are visually oriented. Pictures speak to us in a way that text just doesn’t. Photos especially. They are literally a ‘snapshot’ of a moment in time. They can be very powerful,” he says.
Daigle should know. As the University’s director of digital curation services, he looks at a lot of pictures. He leads an 11-member team that organizes, scans and stores all sorts of rare and historical items. Their goal is to preserve precious materials while making their digital images available to the widest possible audience. That task blends cutting-edge technology with “cool old things,” like antique books, 16th-century maps, Edgar Allan Poe’s letters and handwritten drafts of Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.
Besides scanning fascinating documents, Daigle’s team also handles photographs—thousands of them. For example, team members have digitized the Holsinger Studio Collection. Rufus Holsinger, a Charlottesville photographer at the turn of the 20th century, left behind a unique record of life in the city and Albemarle County. His subjects include early airplanes, train wrecks, commercial buildings and the Rotunda in flames during the 1895 fire.
The team also digitized the University’s Visual History Collection, containing photos of football games, graduations, reunions, classroom lectures, students lounging on the Lawn and, yes, mud slides at Mad Bowl.
Daigle never ceases to be amazed at how the simplest photo can touch people. For example, a shot of parked cars can revive recollections of a long-gone auto that carried a family to marriages, vacations, parties and funerals.
“Photos are surrogates for memory. They also are triggers for faulty memories,” he said. “Pictures have an amazing ability to take you back. If you actually took the photographs, they are intensely personal. Your photos. Your perspective. It’s what you chose to capture. Your experience is totally embedded in that picture.”
To become a digital wizard, you need to:
Buy a scanner. Today, scanners are easy to use and cost anywhere from $50 to $5,000. Simple is fine, but remember that your pictures’ sizes will determine how large a scanner you need.
Organize your pictures. This will make storing and accessing them much easier. You can do this any way you want—by date, names, locations or themes.
Store at 300 DPI or better. This will ensure a good quality print of the image. DPI stands for “dots per inch.” In general, higher DPI results in crisper printed photographs.
Use TIFF files. TIFF stands for Tagged Image File Format. It is a more robust storage option than JPEG, an acronym for Joint Photographic Experts Group. TIFFs will require more computer memory than JPEGs.
Back up your files. Make lots of copies. It’s easy and ensures nothing gets lost.
Keep the original photographs. You may need them if the master file becomes damaged.