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Why is metadata so important?

I have recently been scanning in slides and negatives from my young adult days, and I’m really wishing I’d entered more metadata at the time. That would have been too easy. Anyway, I thought it was worthwhile examining the different metadata I found/used in indexing these old slides.

Note: Apparently I believed I’d remember the people in my pictures for ever! While I remember the people, names that are not noted somewhere have evaporated over the 30 or so years in between.

The first, and most common, source of metadata was “Added” metadata: those notes that were made on the slide, a carrier or slide sheet carrier heading. Apparently in my early 20’s I could write in 6 point text, which I’m having trouble reading with much older eyes. Regardless, Added metadata has proven to be the most valuable.

The brief added metadata is usually combined with some “Analytical” metadata. Analytical metadata is metadata we get from analyzing visual content in the image. For example, this picture:

was one of a group of 20 on the same sheet with the single word ‘Burbank’ in the heading. In fact only two of the dozen images were in Burbank. But using Analytical metadata – the general location and the street sign near the traffic lights – the shot is clearly on Burbank Blvd, on the rise to the overpass over the 5 Freeway and railway lines. (The sign is for Front St.)

Co-incidence number 1: this is less than a mile from where i now live.

The other very useful metadata was stamped on the slides themselves: the month and year of processing, which locks down an approximate time scale. Also useful was the fact that I’d numbered all my files sequentially from the beginning of 1973 (my year in Japan). That sequential metadata made it much easier to identify specific times, in combination with the stamped-on date.

A combination of Added and Analytical metadata led me to the discovery that most of my 1976 trip was spent in the West San Fernando Valley. Identified was the location of an awards ceremony (by Church name) and a street shot, that was clearly looking across the SF Valley, was also named. Both turn out to be incredibly close to our Tarzana office and Woodland Hills home (2001-2005 before we moved to Burbank).

This jogged my memory that we had spent a lot of time in a school hall for rehearsal/training and enjoyed a close-by Denny’s. Taft High school (Ventura Blvd at Winnetka) has a Denny’s across the road.

So it is entirely possible that during my 1976 trip to the US, I spent the majority of my time around the area that was to become home a quarter of a century later; and some of the rest of my time near my 30-years-in-the-future home in Burbank.

Crazy. And without metadata I’d have never remembered.