The nightmare that didn’t come true
Perhaps most landscape photographers have watched Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams. The movie is composed of eight disconnected pieces, written from dreams or aspects of Kurosawa´s personal life. What drives the photographer’s attention to this particular movie is the light and colours. The photography of the eight pieces is a masterpiece. So, if you haven’ t watched yet, please do it after reading this.
The piece of the movie I like the most is “Crows”, when Kurosawa meets Van Gogh. Not only for the colours and their conversation, but also because the soundtrack is the Prelude Op. 28, No. 15, or the “Raindrop” prelude, my favourite Chopin’s composition (which my favourite interpretation is from the Chinese pianist Lang Lang).
When I first saw the movie, I didn’t know how to explain why this song fits so perfectly with the scene. Now, I suspect that 1) the pedal note (a note that repeats throughout the entire song), a flat A representing a leak, in this case perfectly portrays the unquiet Van Gogh´s mind; 2) one part of the melody is full of tragic and dramatic dissonances that are resolved with a major relaxing melody that reminds thunders. The perfect storm for a Van Gogh’s painting, full of tension while still colourful. 3) Van Gogh leaves Kurosawa saying: “The Sun! It compels me to paint. I can’t stay here wasting my time talking to you”, thus despite the climax of the piece being about the sun, the song is about the annoying rain, emphasising even more the sensation of their emotional strains.
But I am sorry to say that this text is not about Kurosawa, Van Gogh or Chopin. It is about peace of mind: also known as backups.
Following Crows, there are two pieces in the movie about nuclear disasters. Indeed, they are not actually dreams, but really terrible nightmares. The second one, called “The Weeping Demon”, shows the suffering of man transformed into demons with their ever-growing horns. The scenario of the piece resembles a volcano and this is why I remembered this movie while thinking about this text.
One week ago I had a nightmare with my external hard drive (HD), the only place on Earth that used to store my photographic work from the last two years: two trips to Norway, one trip to Iceland, my whole Tierras Yermas project, several weeks of fieldwork in the search of the Iberian Lynx, photos of my experimental project on melting glaciers, one month in Italy and random photos (though good) from random trips. I always take this HD with me to clean the SD memory cards from the cameras during the trips – Yes, I know it sounds like a really stupid idea and the nightmare described below could perfectly come to reality, and I am very lucky that it never happened.
In the nightmare, I was waiting for the eruption of a volcano in a grassy garden with many other people around. My backpack, with all my photographic gear and my hard drive, was in the ground when the eruption was about to begin. The ground suddenly opened, we saw a giant hole of lava and the most impressive part was the thunderstorm that occurred inside the hole. This storm was more or less like that one that Julio Verne writes in the Journey to the Centre of the Earth when the professor, the guide and the nephew are sailing in an inner ocean. Indeed, I think that Verne copied this part of the sailing from Melville’s Moby Dick, because he uses the same allegories for the storm, including the St. Elmo’s fire – but this is not relevant here. The fact is that, in the nightmare, we had to run from the eruption and my backpack stayed in the garden. The eruption was a false alarm and when we came back to the grass the backpack wasn’t there anymore. The rest of the nightmare was about the unsuccessful attempt of finding my hard drive. I was not worried about my gear, just about my photos that I would never see again.
Suddenly (and fortunately), I woke up. I was sweating. And I looked for my hard drive. It was there where it should be: safely in my desk, not in my unassisted backpack on the edge of a volcano. This nightmare then anticipated a purchase I had in mind at least one year ago. Immediately I started to search for an external hard drive to backup my recent work.
To put in perspective what would be lost if a volcano drags my HD, I compiled the number of raw and processed files, with their respective size, in the last seven years (2023 until the first half of November). This is what it looks like:
The size of the files in GB is In the left Y-axis (red bars) and the number of files in the right Y-axis (green line). 2017 is the year I decided to dedicate some time to photography as an artistic expression and in 2018 I took it really seriously (just one note: I started to photograph with DSLR cameras back in 2010, but I didn´t consider myself as an artist at that time, even having participated in exhibitions and contests). In 2019, I made some time lapse videos using each frame as a single photograph, so the number of “real “ photos is much lower, probably closer to the values of 2018 and 2020. In 2020 and early 2021, I took a lot of photos inside my house because of the pandemics. From mid-2021 to mid-2022, I was limited to moving by not having a car, so most of my work in 2022 is after July. And the final considerations on the figure are: during these years I changed my cameras, so the files now occupy more space on disk than before; and I am also taking both raw and jpeg photos, which more or less doubles the 2023 numbers. Anyways, considering as duplicated raw+jpeg, a half of the photos is still an impressive value around 500GB and 25,000 files.
But now I do have an 8TB external hard drive that will live safely on my desk. Also, I am organising some SD cards for each year since 2017, so I have an additional copy of the work safely stored somewhere else. What about cloud storage? I still think it is more expensive than the physical storage and it is not practical without a good connection, which is the case most of the time in the field. For now I am happy with my backups and will sleep well and relaxed for some years – at least regarding my past photos.
I foresee that the next nightmare will be to edit some 25,000 photos from an yet unfinished year with one potential last promising trip, but that is the topic of another conversation. While the light compels me to photograph, I don’t think it is a waste of time to talk to you about backing up the photographic work. Please, do it after watching Kurosawa’s Dreams.