The science – and art – of creating a digital legacy
Updated: May 10, 2021
In our increasingly fast-paced society ami Creates understands the value of lasting memories. Welcome to the cutting-edge service behind bespoke, personal digital preservation.
“A life accumulates a collection: of people, work and complexities. We are all our own curators,” says palaeontologist, natural historian and writer Richard Fortey. However, with the ever-increasing ubiquity of digital photographs – thanks in no small part to the smartphone’s ability to take high-quality pictures – our photographic collections are becoming increasingly large, chaotic and vulnerable.
It is no exaggeration to say that each of us has thousands (if not tens of thousands) of digital photographs that are in danger of being forgotten or lost forever on old phones, computers, memory sticks and hard drives. That’s without taking into account the shoe boxes full of fading family photos that we’ve carefully concealed in a far corner of the loft.
So where do you turn if you are too busy in your daily life to be your own curator?
“Curation is the art of sorting and making sense of things – and is at the very heart of what we do. In our case, that is preserving families’ photographs and stories to create a digital legacy,” says Adrian Myers, founder and managing director of ami Creates. “The word ‘curator’ comes from the Latin word curare, meaning ‘to take care’. We take care of the mountains of photographic and video media people have by collecting, restoring and editing it. Then, by adding meta data and keywords to each image, we organise them into an archive which allows them to be discovered through a bespoke and intuitive app; ami Creates.
"Essentially, by curating a family’s photographs we ensure the images will have a legacy and a meaning in 50, 100, even 200 years’ time.”
FIRST COMES TRUST You’re no doubt familiar with the age-old dilemma of deciding which single possession you would save if your home was on fire. Time and again people choose the family photo album.
“There is no insurance for lost memories – you either have them or you don’t,” says Adrian. “Thanks to ami Creates, your memories need never be lost. We can look after your photographs, curating them to tell your story in its most beautiful form so that your children, your children’s children, and your children’s children’s children will always have the pleasure of them. In essence, we are the guardians of people’s memories.”
Perhaps the most important aspect of curation is having trust in the curator. You will, after all, have to hand over details and photographs of the people you hold most dear.
“Trust is incredibly important in this process. We are looking after a family’s legacy and to do that we have to be let in,” says Adrian. “So before we have access to someone’s images we sit down with them to get to know each other, build a relationship, and learn about what is important to them.”
This Discovery Day is a chance for the curators to understand as much as they can about the family: who they are, what they do, where they live, are they skiers or horse riders, do they like to go to the beach… This allows the team to build up a picture of who they might encounter in the photographs and learn important facts that will enable them to tag each and every item to make a family’s story easily searchable.
“People come to us for all sorts of reasons. It can start with wanting to digitise boxes of old photographs, for example, or make some order of all the pictures they scroll through on their phone, but once we have curated a family archive, people quickly begin to understand the value of digital preservation and the power of the memories that a collection of images can bring.”
CREATING A DIGITAL LEGACY
How, you might wonder, does the curation team go about editing all the photographs you take and memorabilia you own into a searchable archive of lasting memories?
“The first net we cast is the biggest one. If we were to miss even one important image at this stage we would have already failed, so we capture anything the client is willing to share with us,” says Adrian. “We know there will be duplication, particularly of digital images, so we run a three stage process to remove duplications and ‘sisters’ (images that have a very similar narrative and composition).
“Analogue images – usually printed photographs but also negatives and slides – are much simpler to archive because the person taking the picture would have been mindful of the process and conscious of getting it right. You might only have one or two images of each scenario, for example, and in that rarity comes beauty.”
Once the team are happy they have a pure set of unique images to look through, they set to work choosing the right images for the archive – scanning, retouching and restoring where necessary or possible.
“Our curators think about the future audience as well as the client’s intention when building a family’s archive; what parts of the narrative will mean the most to future family members, and what sorts of stories and moments will bring enrichment to their understanding of who they are and where they come from?” says Adrian. “Essentially, by curating a family’s photographs we ensure the images will have a legacy and a meaning for generations to come.”
“The skill of a curator is in being adaptive and intuitive, there is no magic formula for getting the true value out of a set of assets. It is an emotionally draining process because our curators are constantly swapping between a logical way of thinking – perhaps an image isn’t in its purest form, it may be blurred, for example – and trying to emotionally understand what is going on in each story.
“That’s why we won’t discount a blurry image just because it is blurry. The curatorial process is not governed by rules, curators have to rely on emotion first and foremost. The personal touch is critical to this process and can’t be solely left to automated machine learning, no matter how powerful the algorithm. If there is only one picture of someone but it is slightly out of focus we are not going to lose the potency of that one image because it is not pin-sharp – pictures don’t have to be technically perfect to make beautiful lasting memories.”
THE MAGIC OF DIGITAL PRESERVATION
According to Adrian, we have never been more able to preserve and access photographs.
“ami Creates is a personal, private, trusted service that is enabled and complemented by technology. We use facial recognition software to tag the images on the app, and we are looking at how we might best be able to incorporate AI and augmented reality within the bespoke books we produce so that holding a phone over a certain image will link to cine or video footage, for example,” he says.
“But the curation process is a real mix of art and science. Technology drives innovation, and the real magic happens when that is mixed with human emotion and artistic interpretation to help tell a family’s story. Our keywording is all done manually, for example, and our curators use phrases that are personal to each client, so just by typing a few words into a device they are able to pull images down from the archive and explore them in the app as easily as if they are recalling the memory itself.
“The contemporary curator is one who brings together a unified voice to reflect on society or the world at large. We are not so different. Our clients have one common point of view when taking photographs; they are all documenting the most important aspects of their lives – their families. This makes our job deeply meaningful and delightfully interesting.”