Collecting Digitally

Article Dedication

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James Watt & Chester Floyd Carlson


Many times the archive may not be able to get the original item for the collection. In those cases, a digital copy may be your only option. While digital copies are not the same as having the original…it is much better than having nothing.

A lot of curators are closed minded to collecting digital copies. I’ve found collecting digital indispensable to my archives mission. In the example below, the post card collector did not want to sell the item, but he was agreeable to selling me a hi-res scan of it reasonably.

Later on I found out cards like this sell for $250 to $350 each. So even if he did want to sell it, it would have been above my budget. That is where collecting digitally can help round out the missing unaffordable / unobtainable links to a collection.

Klu Klux Klan Daniel D. Teoli Jr. Archival Collection m

With the digital collection, a curator can order up inkjet prints and could conceivable install a show in a fraction of the time it would take to beg and borrow prints from other museums. And if a museum wished to borrow an image , how much easier can it get that to drop box or email the image.

The photo departments in the art museums are on a perpetual complaint that they do not have any space for new acquisitions. (Well, maybe that is the ‘easy let down’ as an excuse to snub the photographer that is trying to make his or her way into the museum’s permanent collection. ) In any case, digital again comes to the rescue.

But, digital collecting seems to be too radical thinking for an art museums to adopt. Personally I’ve used this ‘digital only’ technique to produce a few artist’s books and have found it to be a very good method indeed.

There are some drawbacks to collecting digitally. One of the drawbacks to collecting digitally is the digital copy is not worth much…if anything. Museums and galleries have to spend lots of money on conservation, security and so forth. So they only like to collect artwork with signatures and high value.  That is one of the excuses they use anyway.  Really, what they collect is more ‘signature oriented’ than ‘art orientated’ many a time.

Further Reading:

Another issue is you don’t have a physical original. But this can be skirted around by printing out a letter size hard copy that can be scanned if you ever lose the digital files. If museums and archives shared digital files that would also be a great off site back-up safety net.

But, digital can also benefit an archive whereas having just one physical original cannot. In the early 2000’s a flood in Ohio wiped out 20+ years of my work. If it was all digitized I may have had high quality digital backups off-site. In my case, the one and only originals were all destroyed…prints, negs, chromes and ephemera.

Since digital collecting can rapidly increase an archive with easy acquisitions, the curator has to be careful of not overloading the archive with too much material that can’t be dealt with. This is an area I have to be careful with. I don’t have any helpers to manage things, I have to manage things all my myself. So I ‘try’ to be selective.


De Wallen Graffiti 2014 Daniel D. Teoli Jr.