Curation Before Creation

Last week I spent a day going through photographs that belonged to my grandfather. There were less than 200, showing a lifetime, from old black and white shots of great grandparents through to myself and my siblings in shy colour shots taken with old cameras, or copies of school photographs taken in the 1960s and 70s. All were well organized and well thumbed, showing the value of them to the family, the visual history of multiple generations.

When I began in the publishing industry my first job was returning prints and transparencies back to picture agencies of the choices brought in to represent a feature or TV program. One would be chosen from a selection of about a dozen or less for each image printed in the magazine, multiply that by 300+ images per weekly issue, and the returns of hard copy material was a huge overhead for every print title. When the digital camera became more affordable for photographers and widely used then the magazine picture desks must have breathed a collective sigh of relief to no longer have this overhead of returns, something which cost a huge amount of money in resource and transport.

My daily life is spent managing a system with multi million numbers of assets in it, from an e-commerce point of view the majority of the images residing with it are published on the website and essential for the shopping aspect of the business. However there are still a large percentage; and this is more relevant in creative businesses; where a great deal of unused images are stored that relate to the one shot featured on the site or in print. Photo shoots come in on hard drives containing hundreds of images for a 5 image feature. Video shoots arrive in the gigabytes where we have hundreds of rushes, some only a few seconds long, which are used to make a 3 minute video. All of this must then be managed in the DAM system, information applied to make it searchable, rights management put in place, multiple keywords to add value to the asset for the business.

Looking at this, part of me thinks that perhaps we have just swapped one overhead for another. The packaging up and returning of hard copies of images has been changed into the adding of metadata to creative content, and the overhead of storing images and videos which will never be used or looked at again. It would be an interesting exercise to assess the cost of this, the manpower and storage overhead if 30% of your assets in your DAM are gathering virtual dust.

This could be said to be the natural evolution of our digital future, after all most of us will take out our phone and shoot multiple images and videos on them only to delete them after a year, or transfer them to our computers purely because our phones memory is full and promply forget about them. I doubt many of us could sum up our lives in 200 photographs from birth to death at the age of 90+.

Therefore I have decided to set up a Curation before Creation mantra for myself, and hope that as a campaign I can persuade some photographers and video creators to give it a go. I now take less photographs, and the ones I do take are ones I would want to keep as they show something which I want to remember or reflects an important moment in life. As a digital asset manager I would love if I didn’t get 100 videos where 20 are of the sky or someones feet, or a photo shoot where the closed eyes and blurred shots are no longer featured in the final cut. Curation is not only deciding what you want to keep of what you have taken, but also thinking more about the shot that is being taken, how it is going to be used, how it would be looked at in the future. To have commissioning editors to think about 360 degree commissioning, future use of content, and have creatives to curate as they shoot and hand back something which is beautiful, timeless and that will make people want to go back to those images and videos.

I may be living in cloud cuckoo land, but try thinking back to when you had a camera and a roll of film and all of that was costly. Imagine you only have 24 pictures you can take, and then your film has run out. Would that change the way you create your content and would you be more inclined to curate before you press the shutter?

14 Replies to “Curation Before Creation”

  1. Great post Romney! I definitely echo the sentiment! I guess, however, there’s a fairly subjective fine-line between what different people would term valuable – this is why this appears to be a tricky area to tackle across sectors. We are currently trying to offer training to content creators around this very issue and it is often quite difficult as a creator either feels all or most of their content is important or they are too afraid to weed in fear of deleting something that “‘may'” be useful in the future. Are policies on ingest possible – ie no video footage less than 15 seconds for example or do you feel that to be too restrictive?


  2. There is one digital-upside however, no £500 fines for loss of original transparencies or prints!


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