If I were disciplined, which I'm not, about organizing, for which I have perilously close to zero aptitude, I would organize my books and music by the 1-2-3 method.
Some people like their books and music to be organized alphabetically, some by date (either of issuance or acquisition), some by subject matter. People have all sorts of preferences. I'm not saying one is better than the next; I wouldn't know, for one thing, and for another thing, anybody can do any dang thing they please. Ain't up to me.
The 1-2-3 (or A-B-C) method is as follows. Let's say we're talking about music. You have one shelf, or drawer, or place in the house for the CDs you really, really love—the ones you think are stone classics, that have deep meaning for you, the ones you cherish. They're your desert island discs, the best of the best in your view.
In a different place or shelves or cabinets you put good CDs that for some reason fall short of the very first rank. These are the "2's" or "B's." This group is usually much larger than the 1's. Maybe ten times as large. These are all good records, things you enjoy and want to keep, but just not the very best. This category might also be where you keep things you've never really listened to much, other peoples' favorites that you bought on their recommendation, music you bought because of reviews or top-100 lists that for some reason never really grabbed you personally.
This is a picture I like. It's from a 4x5 neg. I made it in 1983. I remember the day (gorgeous) and the place (a cliff overlooking Little Traverse Bay) and the old stump is gone now. But it just doesn't quite make it, if you know what I mean. The shutter speed was slow enough that the water is just barely blurry. There's a sailboat out on the bay that I thought would show up better, but it's out of the d-o-f and doesn't show up clearly. There might have been a great picture here; maybe. I just didn't quite find it, is all. I like it pretty well, but it's not all that great. This is a classic "2."
The 3 category is for the junk. This is stuff we accumulate when we collect music or books or, probably, anything else, that just isn't much of anything to us. It's not quite bad enough to get rid of, but at the same time you're sort of embarrassed to keep it. Maybe there's one song that's pretty good. Maybe it's a guilty pleasure. Maybe it's a "classic" in a genre you just can't bring yourself to like, or something you've outgrown. Maybe it's something you learned from or that you keep around for demonstration purposes. Maybe it's a CD that an old girlfriend played constantly, and it drove you crazy, but, now, it brings back memories, even if not all of them are good. These are the 3's. Not saying it's all crap, objectively, just that it's crap to you.
(I actually do use the 1-2-3 method for books I've read. I keep a list of the titles and just put one, two, or three marks next to each. Ones are for books I loved and thought were great and would recommend to anybody, twos books that I didn't mind reading but that were flawed in some way, or just good for me, or that fell short. Threes are books that were a waste of time, that don't rise above their flaws, that I wouldn't recommend under any circumstances. It's surprising how clarifying this modest little exercise is.)
Naturally, I think the 1-2-3 method of editing is perfect for pictures. Have you ever gone to somebody's flickr or pbase or photoSIG page only to find eight minor variations of what amounts to the same picture, or dozens of also-rans spiced with a great shot here or there? A huge majority of photographers have real trouble with this. They're unable to pick their own best shots and push the rest aside. They get their heads turned by all the almosts, the near misses, the ones they worked on (if you worked for it, it must be good, right?), the ones that have memories attached, the ones that look like good pictures they've admired by others but that aren't truly theirs, the ones they were proud of for some reason even though nobody else can quite detect why.
The 1-2-3 method encourages you to be ruthless but doesn't demand that you give up all your babies or discard any of your crap. John Gossage once said to me that you should keep everything you do because you'll learn from it in the future—you'll detect patterns you can't see at first, find clues to what you're all about. It becomes information you can mine later. "Throw it in a box and stick it in the attic," he says. Throw it on a DVD and stick it in the virtual attic.
If it's tough to toss your 3's, it's agony to discard your 2's. The closer something comes to being good, to working, the more of your blood and sweat is really in it, the harder it is to admit that it's not quite what you envisioned, not quite a real hit. The 2's are the fool's gold that lead us all astray. At the same time, you can't really bring yourself to jack them all, and why should you? There are other uses for pictures than merely being great pictures. They're records, memories, learning tools, signposts, talismans, admonitions...and they're yours.
Still, only the ones that completely meet with your wholehearted approval should make it into the 1 category.
A photograph, in my view, is either a yes or a no. If it's a yes, it's all yes. Commit to it. Claim it. Admit you can't do better. Some things we love, and you should love what you love. A 1 is a 1 is a 1.
I'm not saying this is the only way to organize pictures. It might not suit your personality or your needs. To me, though, it's almost a self-teaching tool. I seem to learn from it on an ongoing basis.
Featured Comment by Ross Chambers: "In a former life I was a motion picture editor, not of any prominence, but the experience may be relevant. Film editors are well paid professionals. They earn their fee by their insight into what makes a film work, and they do it in the comfort of their cutting rooms with a bevy of assistants who often do all the hands-on work. They don't give a damn what time the director, the cinematographer, the cast and the rest of the crew got up in the morning to climb the mountain, or how much it cost to destroy that building; the sequence has to work.
"There are exceptions of course, the waters are muddied by the star system, product exposure perverts story telling, writers try to make their points (Did you hear about the really dumb starlet? She slept with the writer) and so on. I'm not sure that the photographer is the best judge of his or her own work. Fortunately I have a daughter who is a photo editor, but even she has a newspaper frame of mind."