A few tips on managing your digital archives

According to a study done in 2015, 68 percent of Americans have a smartphone. If you count yourself among this number, there’s a very good chance you have some pictures stored on it. Birthday parties, spouses, kids, Christmas, selfies…just think of all the file space your pictures take up!

On a somber but related note, have you heard of the coming “Digital Dark Age?” Computer scientist Vint Cerf, widely recognized as one of the founders of the modern Internet, coined this expression, which is based on the idea that if we do not take active steps to preserve our digital information, it may disappear forever, thus rendering any records we’re keeping for future generations lost.

“But wait,” you say. “I have all of my pictures saved on a disk/external hard drive/the cloud, so I’m safe, right?” Not necessarily. Take a look at the lifespan of media formats through history (below).

Do you have files or photos that are more than 10 years old? Digital files more than 10 years old are at substantial risk for loss or degradation, such that you might not be able to access them.

Think about it: if you had all of your pictures stored on your phone and you misplaced it, it got stolen, or perhaps it burst into flames, what would happen? Those pictures would be gone forever! So what should you do with those pictures?

Did you know that in its current form, Google Photos is only a year old? In just that one year, Google has collected almost 2,000,000,000 (that’s Billion!) animations, collages, movies, and other digital objects. Taking up 13.7 petabytes of space (1 petabyte is 1,000 terabytes, and consider that 1 terabyte is a standard hard drive on a laptop you can buy in the store today) and 24 billion selfies, it would take you 424 years to swipe through that many photos, according to Google’s blog page.

Now, before you get too depressed by all this news, there’s still time to take proactive measures to ensure all of your digital treasures are not lost. Here are some ideas on storing your digital archive, with an eye specifically toward photos.

1. Set up a folder on your computer to begin the process. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

2. Identify where all of your pictures “live.” Where are all of my pictures? I use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Shutterfly, and many other photo storing apps.

3. Identify the important moments: do you really need 39 pictures of your 18-month old eating one dinner with her grandma? Perhaps you could pick the best 5.

4. Aim to have at least three copies of everything. I know how redundant this sounds, but if you don’t back it up, you run the risk of losing it. How you choose to do this is up to you, but you can use SD cards, a USB drive, DVD or Blu-Ray discs, external hard drives, or a cloud service.

5. Actively manage your archive. Now that you have a handle on your information, keep it that way. Post new pictures to your backup locations, make sure their date and geotag locations (if they’re turned on) are correct, and most importantly, keep up!

6. Lastly, if it’s feasible, print out the important moments and set a date to scrapbook. Think back to the photo albums you have or that you remember looking at as a child; maybe a picture or three per month that are important enough to want to pick up off your bookshelf.

We aren’t talking necessarily about preserving our cultural heritage by saving all the selfies you’ve taken; but we can begin to think about how to tame/manage our digital photo presence.

Denver Catholic archives

The communications office of the Archdiocese of Denver is taking steps to ensure that the Church’s rich history here in northern Colorado is preserved appropriately. We are working diligently to update our archives, and very soon, the Stafford Library will have on its shelves bound volumes of the first 20 years of the Denver Catholic Register. The rest will be added as they are completed in the coming years, with a fully digital archive to become available online shortly thereafter.

Stephen Sweeney is the director of the Cardinal J. Francis Stafford Library.

COMING UP: Why icons still matter to a modern world

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Icons have existed from the time of the early Church and grew in popularity over the years as an aid in prayer and worship — but today, icons are often seen as irrelevant to our modern world because of their perceived rigidity and austerity.

But it hasn’t died out, and there’s a reason.

In Denver, instructor Laurence Pierson, a former nun in the Community of Beatitudes, teaches a course at the Botanic Gardens called “Sacred Doorways — Byzantine Iconography,” which is the only icon painting class in the greater Denver metro.

Pierson attributes the long-surviving tradition of icons to the same reason the Church still exists.

“Tradition has great value, and if it’s an art that’s survived so many centuries, that’s because there is a great value to it, and it’s not only the tradition, it’s that mainly, it’s rooted in the Gospel,” Pierson said.

In an article called “Sacred Icons,” painter Aidan Hart quotes John of Damascus, who said of icons, “What the written Word proclaims through letters, iconography proclaims and presents through colors.”

Laurence Pierson, left, is a former nun of the Community of the Beatitudes who has been teaching an iconography class at Denver Botanic Gardens called “Sacred Doorways.” It is the only icon painting class in the greater Denver metro area. (Photo provided)

It is the same story of the Gospel, presented in art rather than word, and as the Gospel is timeless, so is the art of icons. And while they may look austere, that’s not something to be afraid of, nor is it irrelevant in our modern time.

“Even though an icon might look austere, it actually drives us beyond superficial emotions — they want us to go deeper. It’s a deep joy,” Pierson said. “I think you have to be quiet and go deeper. In the spiritual life, our ascetic aspect doesn’t have to be forgotten, and sometimes there is an ascetic aspect, and our human condition needs to be redeemed.”

“It’s a medium that has to be rediscovered, and there is so much potential,” Pierson added.

Sacred doorways and symbols

The deep spirituality of icons is part of what has preserved them throughout the roughly 2000 years that they’ve been around. Hart explains that icons are “not just pictures to look at, but are a door to heaven, a way of meeting those who dwell there.”

Hence the name of Denver’s class, “Sacred Doorways.” The material use of the paintings are a way for us to pass through the material world and into a knowing of the holy people depicted. This is just the tip of the spiritual meaning of icons.

The specific look of the icons: the elongated nose, the wide eyes, the dimensions and perspectives, are all intensely symbolic.

“Icons do not depict outward appearances, but reflect something of invisible, spiritual realities. In fact, all good art does this,” Hart said.

“An artist isn’t just someone who puts colors [on a canvas],” Pierson said. “An artist reveals the reality of this world, which sometimes isn’t possible to see. And icon painting is revealing this invisible reality and making it visible with lines and colors.”

Icons do not depict outward appearances, but reflect something of invisible, spiritual realities. In fact, all good art does this.”

So what are icons revealing through their symbols?

Here are just a few insights from Hart:

– Inverse perspective: “There is a number of perspective systems used in icons. With inverse perspective, the lines converge on us, the viewers. This serves to include us in the action depicted,” Hart said. “A sacred event in the past is still acting on us today, ‘Today Christ is risen.’”

– Flatness: “It helps us pass through the icon to the person and events depicted. The aim…is not to replace the subject depicted, but to bring us into living relationship with them,” Hart said.

– Anatomy: “The eyes and ears of people are often enlarged, and the nose elongated. This is to show that the saint is someone who contemplates God, who listens to him, who smells the fragrance of Paradise,” Hart said.

The spiritual process

Pierson has been painting icons for 25 years and teaching for 18. Following the rich tradition of the painting style is the first step of entering into the “spiritual journey” of painting an icon, Pierson said.

“It’s very important for me to get rooted in Byzantine tradition, especially because it’s an art that comes from the Eastern world,” Pierson said. “You have to be very careful not to distort ancient tradition but also find a way to speak to our modern world, so it’s a very delicate balance. For me, that’s crucial, to find this balance.”

“[Painting] has to be a solitary experience because you have to pray, but for me, it’s important to be anchored in a community and liturgical life,” Pierson said.

Pierson, who is commissioned to paint icons for the community often, begins with research and prayer, both to whom the icon is depicting and for the person who will receive the painting. Then the painting begins, which is an intense, multi-layered process.

The art of painting icons is far more than just a creative process; it’s a deeper spiritual journey that requires a lot of prayer, Pierson says. (Photo provided)

First, a binder, which is what the pigment adheres to in order to stay on a board, is created. The binder consists of egg yolk mixed with an equal part of water. This is mixed with the paint pigment and a few drops of water, creating the egg tempera medium with which icons are traditionally painted.

Next, guiding lines are traced into a gesso-covered wooden board and then engraved with a tool. Then, paint is added, layer by layer, beginning with dark colors and finishing with lighter colors. “It is as though the iconographer begins with darkness and death, and ends with light and resurrection,” Hart said.

The final stage is writing the saint’s name; then the icon is blessed by a priest and venerated. The working time varies, but it is a very long process, taking up to a year.

Revealing a Presence

The act of painting is something Pierson discovered she needs for her life to flourish — “essential,” even.

With icon painting, it “combines art and the vertical connection to God,” Pierson said.

And the connection to God is experienced deeply throughout the painting journey.“There is a journey — there’s a time you feel discouraged or bored. Even though you don’t feel it, you live by faith, trusting what you do has meaning and will bear fruit,” Pierson said. “With iconography, there is a Presence.”

“This whole painting journey teaches you about yourself, it takes patience — it takes time. You cannot finish an icon painting in a few hours. You have to trust the process. You have to trust someone else is inspiring you, even though it might not perfect. It’s all very like our spiritual life. It teaches us all that in a very practical way,” she added.