Talking PhotoShelter with Irish Photo Archive: Digitizing an Archive of Over 2 Million Images

Talking PhotoShelter with Irish Photo Archive: Digitizing an Archive of Over 2 Million Images

Pictured: Susan Kennedy & Sean Walsh

When you’ve acquired an historic archive with over 2 million images that includes The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and JFK, where do you begin when it comes to digitizing, securing, uploading, distributing and marketing the work?

For Susan Kennedy and Sean Walsh, the answer was obvious: PhotoShelter.

The Archives’ History

The story of these images begins back in 1952 when Lensmen Press and Public Relations Photographic Agency was established by Andy Farren and Padraig MacBrien. Over the years they built the Irish Photo Archive which consists of over 2.6 million negatives, an amount of work that Sean Walsh describes as “a mammoth.”  Photographer Susan Kennedy purchased the Agency and acquired the archive back in 1995. Sean explains that the archive, made up of glass negatives, newspaper clippings, and 35mm film, had been moved around several times, stored in garages and beneath various office buildings. But once Sean and Susan moved into their new office in the northern part of Dublin, for the first time the archive was together and visible in one single room. It was then that Sean realized that something needed to be done: “I really pushed Susan to utilize it. It’s such a treasure, and it would be such a shame if there were a fire or a flood, all of this would be lost.” So they started looking into a potential buyer for this massive archive filled with historic moments. But, the archive was so large many shied away from purchasing the entire collection. Both Sean and Susan knew they wanted to use a service that would help organize their work, be user friendly, and allow these hidden treasures to be found. So they began their own online archiving, and chose PhotoShelter to help do the job.

Susan and Sean’s office is made up of 2 flatbed scanners and a handful of passionate and determined volunteers, without whom only a small fraction of the already 28,000+ scanned images would be digitized. Sean explains, “Because of the recession there’s a lot of brilliant people who are looking for work. We are fortunate to have found many bright and talented people who are willing to come in and dedicate their time to something they find stimulating. We are blessed.”

The Beatles arrive at Dublin Airport – 1st November 1963. Copyright: Irish Photo Archive

Keywords, Captions and Meta Data

The good news was that Agency photographers had made incredibly detailed notes and captions for each and every image they submitted. These notes are now helping structure the Search function of the Archive’s site. Explains Susan, “Every negative was assigned a number, so the file name becomes that number. We then type in the caption.” Irish Photo Archive’s caption strategy has not only led to great SEO, but it has translated into real business revenue. For each and every image within the archive, there are four pieces of crucial information that the photographer hand wrote:

  1. Photographer’s Diary – contains the day to day job such as time/location information
  2. Ledger – more details about the image, the people within the image
  3. Head Cards – little boxes with each person’s name and all the images that relate to that person over a period of time
  4. The Captions – more detail on the event

These critical pieces of information are written within the Description/Caption portion of the IPTC meta data and within the keywords in Aperture. They also have curated a generic list of keyword terms that fit all the photographs within the archive. “We looked up words that people were using to search, like ‘old timey photographs’ and added them to our keywords list,” says Susan. They then use the PhotoShelter Aperture plug-in to upload their photos along with all the keywords into their PhotoShelter Image Browser. They also run the PhotoShelter SEO grader regularly to check up on their score, and have had great luck when it comes to getting found. “We upload photographs and have really great success seeing them show up in Google Images due to our very specific keywording,” she explains.

PhotoShelter’s editable IPTC/Meta Data fields

Organizing Such a Large Archive

Their extremely organized Image Browser is a site in and of itself to behold. Nearly every one of their galleries and collections have a cover image set to visually represent the images within.  But the organizational tool that really makes the Image Browser so useful for them is the ability to have infinite nested collections. They create decade-organized collections, nest additional collections within, and segment by events such as business, entertainment, automobiles, sports, and so on. These specific topics hold even more specific collections that contain galleries of images. This organization method allows for website visitors to make sense of the site that has over 20,000 images. Sean and Susan also understand the importance of adding images to multiple galleries. “We can add a photograph to multiple galleries – so some photographs might fit into multiple categories, and this gives searchers a bigger chance to find exactly what they’re looking for,” Susan tells us.

The Rolling Stones in the airport bus on route to the customs hall at Dublin Airport. Copyright: Irish Photo Archive

Business Success with The Rolling Stones

Some of the more well known images in the archive are of a very young and fresh faced Rolling Stones when they played in Ireland the winter of 1965. Susan explains, “We uploaded the Stone’s images back in April of this year and within four weeks ABKCO Music and Records, an independent entertainment company located in New York,  found them. We only had about six up, and they asked for more so we found, scanned, and uploaded 30 more. ABKCO already had a photo of them playing the show, and you could see our photographer in one of the images. ABKCO couldn’t believe we had the ones of them practicing in the bathroom.” AMCO used the images as promotional materials for the Stone’s documentary, Charlie Is My Darling, released earlier this year. Twenty of the images are also currently on display at the Dublin Airport in celebration of the Stone’s 50th anniversary.

Harpist Maria O’Hara. Copyright: Irish Photo Archive

Irish Photo Archive’s immense collection (did we already mention it’s over 2 million images?) would probably seem daunting to most. But with Susan and Sean’s determination, the help of some volunteers, and PhotoShelter, they’re slowly — and more importantly, methodically —  digitizing and getting the job done.

Irish Photo Archive’s images are available for sale and license on their PhotoShelter website, see prices on their detailed Pricing Page.

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