Thursday, January 26, 2012

What to do with chaser images?

I've had this conversation with several veteran chasers, and it's a vexing dilemma.  The passage of time means that some veteran storm chasers soon will be passing on (dying).  A few chasers have died already and the issue of what to do with their images remains problematic.  The question arises:  what can be done to preserve the legacy of their chasing?  There's no central  place to save the still and video imagery from their many years of chasing.  Part of the problem is that each veteran chaser may have a different wish for their imagery: they may see it as a legacy for their families, or as a source of educational material, or as a collection of commercially valuable photos/video.  Our personal wishes surely would be relevant, but - just what do we want to see happen with regard to our imagery?

Speaking only for myself, my imagery formally belongs to the corporation I formed and, as such, could be an asset that I pass on to my family to do with as they wish.  Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure the most they could do with it would be to try to sell it for whatever they might be able to get for it.  How much might a collection of still and video images of storms (and other subjects) be worth?  I have no idea, but I'm guessing my family would have no idea of the value of my imagery, or how to obtain a reasonable price for the legacy I would leave.  Fact is, I don't know myself!  It might be a large value or it might be worth little or nothing.  Families are unlikely to know what the worth and significance of chase imagery is.  It's just "stuff" we've left behind.

The challenge I see is this:  the real value of these images likely would be associated with the context in which the images were obtained.  Some are simply cloud photographs, some represent documentation of important severe weather events, some are just interesting imagery I captured during my long career of storm chasing (40 years as of 2012).  It would be nice to have them sorted in some systematic way, but the best I can do now is to identify them by date.  It would be great to have some sort of narrative to associate with them, but to do so would be an enormous task, and my memory of them is fading with each passing year.

It might be good to have some sort of central collection point where veteran chasers could deposit their imagery in an archive.  The cost of such a "Museum of Storm Chasing" could become large.  My imagery includes film, video, and digital content.  The digital content alone, which represents only a fraction of the total, occupies almost a terabyte of storage.  The 35 mm and medium format film transparencies have mostly not been scanned into digital form.  Film must be stored in an appropriate environment and even then it deteriorates with time.  Images stored on digital media become unreadable as those media become obsolete, and they also deteriorate with time.  We have no digital media that can outlast properly stored film images right now.   Digital media are changing constantly, so images would need to be transferred to new media as the technology changes.

I'd guess I have at least another terabyte of uscanned images that, and it's likely that I actually have  several times that.  I have neither the time nor the inclination to convert all my imagery to digital format.  Let's just say for the sake of argument that I have 5 terabytes of imagery - I'm just guessing about that of course.  With the cost of digital storage devices, that's not a lot of expense these days, but organizing and managing such a database would not be a trivial, inexpensive exercise! 

If we consider the pioneers of storm chasing - Al Moller, Dave Hoadley, Gene Moore, Jim Leonard Tim Marshall, and so on - to say nothing of more recent chasers - Roger Hill, Bill Reid, Charles Edwards, and so on - this likely represents many, many terabytes of material.  What's going to happen to all of that amazing imagery as these chasers pass on?  Will it be lost or preserved as an important legacy?  I wish I knew. 

This blog isn't going to offer a solution, unfortunately.  The best I can do is open up the topic for discussion.  We all need to think about this and ask ourselves what we would like to see happen to our personal legacies of storm chasing imagery.  Do we want a central archive?  Is that even realistic?  What about commercial uses for our images?  What about scientific and/or educational uses?  Do we want them rat-holed away in some dusty archive, or do we want them actively marketed for commercial use, or what?  I just don't know.  I'm wide open to suggestions.


Joel Olson said...

If & when such an archive is made, it will benefit being coupled to another time-indexed database of NWS products.

Anonymous said...

Would it be at all possible for these images to be stored with Tom Grazulis' 'The Tornado Project' ?
for use primarily by the scientific community. My thinking is simply that given TTP has as comprehensive a data base as they do, half the job re indexing is already in place and it seems a natural progression to add imaging. Naturally there would have to be limits/proviso's re accessing the images in accordance with the owners wishes, however even should the owner not wish for access to be granted outside the meteorological community it would still make sense (well to me anyway) to make use of the TTP archive?? Just an idea.

Kris Wetton. Western Australia

Chuck Doswell said...

Kris - I have my doubts that Tom wants the extra workload! Moreover, Tom is getting to be an old fart, like many of us. What happens to TTP after Tom dies? I don't think this is a permanent solution, but thanks for your suggestion.