Images, Records, Memories, Thoughts

Lucien Samaha -  The Archive as seen through photographs of Lebanon

I keep my digital asset archives in several catalogs. The four main catalogs for small format photography are B&W for black-and-white negative film, FS Archive for all color negative film, color reversal film that has been cut into strips, and cross-processed color reversal film (FS for Film Strips), Slide for Mounted Color Reversal Film, and DSC for digital camera captures.

I originally was forced to separate the catalogs into these and other categories, because the software was limited to a certain number of assets. Even now, as that limit has been increased, larger catalogs become clunky, and every time any significant metadata is added or any assets modified, it takes several minutes to Save the catalog. My preference would be to include all assets in one catalog.

My B&W catalog currently holds 31,748 photographs, 123 of which I took in Lebanon, mostly family snapshots with dates uncertain, but most likely from 1973 to 1975, the years I took up photography at Annandale High School in Virginia. As these were during my school years, the photographs were all from summer vacations.

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I use Phase One's Media Pro to catalog my digital assets, the third company to own and distribute the program since its inception. It has built-in fields for all sorts of metadata including Date, Place, People, Keywords, Categories and many others. My primary emphasis is on the date when a photograph was taken. The date, if known, becomes the Unique Filename in the following format for all analog photographs: 


RN = Roll Number on any specific day. If only roll on a particular day, then 00
FN = Frame Number on any specific roll
LOC = a three letter acronym for the country where the photo is taken

In the forty years I have been taking photographs, I have at times kept meticulous records of date and place contiguous to the actual film, at other times the records have been in diaries or notes, and at yet other times, no record at all, whereby I use a different naming method with emphasis on the place, with the approximate guessed date entered into a special user-defined field.

The photograph below, the year is circa 1974, but the month and day are not known, and are therefore given the numbers 00 and 00 respectively. However, the content itself reveals that it must have been in the middle of summer, in July or August. Not all photographs contain clues, but another archive exists which can be used to correlate data, that of store receipts, credit card bills, diaries, etc. Unfortunately, that archive has not yet been organized and tamed.


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The total number of analog photographs from Lebanon equals 5140, scanned from black and white film, color negative film, and color reversal film, ranging from 1973 to 2003.

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As of August 15, 2013 the digital camera archive contains 244,507 images, 1134 of which are from Lebanon, from 2002, 2003, and 2011. By design, digital photographs record EXIF data upon capture, so if the camera Date and Time setting is correct, then each image contains this information, and in my archive becomes the FileName as well, in the form YYMMDD_hhmmss, perfect for chronology.

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In addition to my own photographs, I am scanning both prints and negatives from the family collection, including those from commercial studios as well as family snapshots, many of which taken by my uncle Robert Mitri. I have not taken inventory of the total number, but I estimate it to be between one and two thousands prints.

My mother Georgette Manachi at studio Roxy at the age of 18, in Beirut.

My father Georges Samaha circa 1960 on his balcony in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. 

That's me, Lucien Samaha, at the age of 2, circa 1960 on the rooftop of the building where I resided with my mother's sister Loulou and her husband Robert Mitri in the area in Beirut known as Nahr (or river). Photograph by Robert Mitri. In the background, the Bay of Jounieh.