Yvan Cohen

Yvan Cohen

Wed Aug 30 2023

Digital Asset Management: Saving the World One Picture at a Time

Wonder Woman Illustration Wonder Woman Illustration. Photo by Roy Reyna

Let's face it, there are few things less glamourous than archive management.

If I were to drone about the intricacies of digital asset management (DAM) - which I love to do - your eyes would probably start glazing over and you'd soon be clicking your way towards more stimulating digital pastures.

As unglamourous as it may be, managing media archives represents a degree of value that is often hugely underestimated.

Our LightRocket Enterprise DAM system is often deployed in the service of unique digital archive collections - comprising photos, videos, audio and other files. For all the unglamourous lines of code and for all the grinding work often involved in indexing digital assets, the goal is the preservation of our visual heritage, the value of which is hard to overstate.

The fragile nature of digital media makes it particularly vulnerable to loss. Gone are the days when we could hope to find treasure troves of physical pictures (prints and film) stored away in attics. The digital records of today consist of electrical signals that, once transcoded, are represented to us as images or videos etc. Yet, digital images don't actually exist in any tangible sense and can evaporate into the ether in the blink of a digital eye.

Photo of Laptop On Couch Photo of Laptop On Couch. Photo by Lisa Fotios

What is Digital Asset Management?

Digital Asset Management is the ungainly industry jargon that describes a process designed to solve the specific problem of preserving and rendering accessible digital archives. The core ideas are simple: centralise, preserve, make searchable, control access and track usage.

However, like most simple things in life, achieving simplicity is no easy task. The process of deconstructing a problem to re-construct logical workflows that are then wrapped in an intuitive interface, goes to the heart of what it is to create great software.

At LightRocket, we understand that simple goals often require complex solutions. Our challenge is to translate those complex solutions into an easy-to-use system. We call it the power of simplicity.

There's a certain poetry to the merging of cutting-edge technology with the raw material of history. One is constantly reminded that if the mission is to preserve, the essence of that mission is one that will help define the present and, perhaps, give us the insights that will help chart a course into the future.

Because, if we cannot refer to the past, if there are no archives to browse through, we become untethered. History is the key to understanding our present identity and imagining our futures.

Person Using Laptop Computer during Daytime Person Using Laptop Computer during Daytime. Photo by picjumbo.com

What can a Digital Asset Management System do for your organisation?

I still find it surprising that so many organisations relegate the preservation of their archives to the margins of their priorities. Since the process of archiving is rarely core to an organisation's mandate or goals, the challenge and costs associated with protecting digital assets and with making them accessible, is very often demoted to the status of 'it can wait another year'.

But as we all know, procrastination breeds inertia and inertia never got anyone anywhere. One year turns into two and before you know it, digital files are being squirrelled away, hither and thither, in hard drives scattered throughout the organisation and sometimes around the globe. When the time finally comes for looking back, for finding that key image which encapsulates a moment or your organisation's mission, nobody knows where to look.

And yet, it's rare that an organisation systematically deletes digital files. In fact, many organisations have invested considerable sums into converting analogue records into digital assets.

Intuitively we understand the value of archives. Instinctively we shy away from the idea of deleting even the most banal files and yet, we often hear of organisations that are reluctant to invest in their digital archives.

In many cases, since the value of digital archives is associated with the organisation and not with an individual, security protocols, even the basic step of ensuring everything is backed-up, are often overlooked.

Why LightRocket cares about your digital media assets?

I gave this piece the rather grand title of 'Saving the world one picture at a time'. It might sound overly grandiose, but at LightRocket we really do believe in the value of our visual heritage and the essential need to preserve and protect it. Our aim is to protect our visual history so that it's available for us to enjoy and learn from, today and into the future.

If you have any questions about how to start organising your archives and/or evaluate the value of a DAM management system, please feel free to contact Yvan at info@lightrocket.com.

Written by Yvan Cohen | Yvan has been a photojournalist for over 30 years. He's a co-founder of LightRocket and continues to shoot photo and video projects around South East Asia.

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