Buy three boxes.*
When you get a great portfolio-worthy shot, make three prints.
Put one in a box at your house.
Put the second in a box at your friend's house.
Send the third to a relative to put in a box in their house.
When the boxes fill up, buy three more boxes.
In the immortal words of the third fiddle, viola.
Of course, I don't do this, so I can't claim that this is a feasible backup system. (It seems to me that one of the crucial tests of a backup system is, does the person who's talking about it actually do it? If he doesn't, it's a black mark against the system right there.)
*I like 8x10x1 boxes because you can put them upright on a bookshelf like a book. And who doesn't have bookshelves somewhere in the house? Can't be said of any friend of mine. Plus, 8x10s are scan-able on flatbed scanners.
P.S. Here's what's wrong with this plan. You'd send your pictures to your friend and your relative, but 1) they'd show them to other people, eventually crimping and dog-earing them and getting them dirty; 2) they'd like some of them and want to frame them for the mountain cabin or Junior's dorm room, or they'd take a few of them out of the box to take over and show another friend or send to Aunt May, and the pictures would never find their way back to the box; or c) you'd get a call 11 years from now (which would also be 10 years and five months since you last added a print to their box) and it would be your friend or relative saying, "I've got this box with 23 of your pictures in it and I have no idea where it came from. So I'm sending it back to you. Here's the tracking number...."
Oh well, on second thought, never mind.
I tell ya, the only way to preserve your work is to be famous. Then everybody wants it, there will be plenty of copies around, and people who own the prints will take care of them. The rest of us are probably screwed.
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Featured Comments from:
Dave Levingston: "I've been working for more than three years on what I've been calling my 'Immortality Project.' It involves making sets of prints to be boxed and given to various friends and family for safekeeping.
"There's even one museum that has agreed to take a box.
"Originally the plan was for each box to hold about 300 prints of my best photos. After working on it for a while I realized that I would have to be immortal to complete the project. (About 20 boxes of various sizes from 17x22 to 8.5x11.) So, I've scaled it back to 100 prints. After three and a half years I've printed about 35 of them.
"I might get the 100 done before I die or, worse, go blind. And the hope is that someday 50 years after I've left this life, someone, somewhere will open one of those boxes and enjoy what I put in it. That's about as good as we can hope for, I think."
Shaun: "Printing up a self-published book is another way to go. Of course fine art print fidelity isn't in it, but it is an inexpensive way to put your best photographs in one place which can be easily distributed and passed down through a few generations. Leave a copy laying around and those photographs that are normally hiding in archival boxes will actually be seen."