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Meet 'The Archivist' at National Geographic

By dpreview staff on Feb 22, 2014 at 08:00 GMT


Ever wonder who looks after at all the old photographs in National Geographic's archive? Well, now you can meet that man. His name is Bill Bonner and they call him 'The Archivist'. For 31 years he's worked mostly by himself in the basement of National Geographic’s Washington, D.C. headquarters and has handled hundreds of thousands of photographs. In total, Bonner is responsible for about eight million images in the vintage collection.  

Check out the video above to see him at work and read the full profile about him on National Geographic's PROOF blog.

What do you think? Would you want his job? 

Comments

Total comments: 41
Gadgetadict
By Gadgetadict (2 months ago)

It would be great if they were all in digital format and accessible in some NG web page, I understand the oldest ones could be damaged by an scanner but I just say it would be great.

0 upvotes
Aaron801
By Aaron801 (2 months ago)

I dug it... I guess that for a 4 minute long piece, I wasn't expecting any sort of big revelations. it was more about the simple wonder of having a library with that many images going back that many years, The subject really conveyed that sense of wonder and that's really what it was all about

As for the quality of the film making, I thought that was nicely handled as well. The shallow depth of field used in much of the piece gives it an interesting texture and I think really worked. the editing, audio, etc were all handled well, I'd say.... I don;t really get all of the haters. I see a lot of documentary film and much of it is handed pretty sloppily, without much regard for aesthetics. This piece however was very thoughtfully made...

I would also love that gig!

0 upvotes
Paul Guba
By Paul Guba (2 months ago)

They hired an archivist after Nat Geo filed suit and won to gain ownership to the rights of every image a photographer hired to take for them.

0 upvotes
Fioretta
By Fioretta (2 months ago)

incredible ... an invaluable fundus

0 upvotes
Grosh
By Grosh (2 months ago)

Great story! They could make it available to view online. Wouldn't mind to spend few days browsing at all...

0 upvotes
David Myers
By David Myers (2 months ago)

I s he like the guy who used to look after the archives in the 'LIFE' collection in a certain recent movie??? Hope not!

0 upvotes
Dan Wagner
By Dan Wagner (2 months ago)

National Geographic has had many shows in NYC galleries .

0 upvotes
aramgrg
By aramgrg (2 months ago)

Wow , the cover music is Armenian duduk!

0 upvotes
BayToSierras
By BayToSierras (2 months ago)

An example of how one can overdo selective focus. A small fraction of it would have been ok. If it wasn't possible to bring more light into the archive, it might have been better not to do the video or to use some sharp still images.

5 upvotes
Deutsch
By Deutsch (2 months ago)

Per FlySurfer Comment below, they do post Archived photos at:

http://natgeofound.tumblr.com

1 upvote
ffnikclif
By ffnikclif (2 months ago)

I'm speechless.I would like to say I would love this job, but I doubt I'd be good at it. And this is a job you have to be very, very, good at. My hat is off to Mr. Bonner.

0 upvotes
garyknrd
By garyknrd (2 months ago)

My thoughts exactly. Funny how people like different things. I would hate a job like that. And he excels at it.

0 upvotes
wudyi
By wudyi (2 months ago)

Guy doesn't seem terribly insightful. The video could have been a lot better if they'd have stopped down the aperture and steadied the camera.

6 upvotes
Black Box
By Black Box (2 months ago)

It's really sad "most of them were never published". WHY, is a good question.

1 upvote
mister_roboto
By mister_roboto (2 months ago)

because there's only so many pages a month

2 upvotes
Black Box
By Black Box (2 months ago)

They could scan them and publish on a dedicated website. Sitting their butts on the copyrights is just plain selfish.

1 upvote
Black Box
By Black Box (2 months ago)

I liked it up until the moment this allegedly interesting man muttered: "It's so cool... it's like WOW!" After that, his touching glass daguerreotypes with bare fingers doesn't seem like too much of a bad thing. Truly, his job is more interesting than he is.

2 upvotes
leszeff
By leszeff (2 months ago)

Probably more interesting than you

2 upvotes
Black Box
By Black Box (2 months ago)

Your accent is weird.

1 upvote
venancio
By venancio (2 months ago)

imagine the cost of therapy if he were a closet pixel peeper... but because he is actually a silent artist at heart, there's music down there in the basement when he beholds each picture and his soul sings... I can envy his job and even feel his pain when he considers that a lot of them would never see the light of day, or feel the embrace of the pages of a book...

1 upvote
Marty4650
By Marty4650 (2 months ago)

Since most were never published, National Geographic could create many great books by simply mining their own archives.

Imagine the value of this collection if it ever went up for auction.

6 upvotes
Marty4650
By Marty4650 (2 months ago)

A dream job, if ever there was one for a photo enthusiast.

And he actually gets paid to do it!

4 upvotes
Joe Ogiba
By Joe Ogiba (2 months ago)

Working by himself in the basement for 31 years a dream job ? I think I would rather be outside on location shooting the NG images for 31 years instead.

3 upvotes
Robert Soderlund
By Robert Soderlund (2 months ago)

For some being in a basement AND working AND getting paid is all that matters, for others they simply get bored too easily.

0 upvotes
franco montana
By franco montana (2 months ago)

that basement is a healthier environment that the surface of the city it is in. i worked for a year on restoring a 120 glass-plates dating from 1882-1910. it just keeps getting better and better and never bored of it, unless you're doing it the wrong way or for the wrong purposes. i guess it must b so exciting to work in that NG basement for a living.

1 upvote
Michael Ma
By Michael Ma (2 months ago)

Too bad they can't just share these images for people to look at. They're just rotting away. I hope someone at least scans them.

2 upvotes
flysurfer
By flysurfer (2 months ago)

http://natgeofound.tumblr.com

11 upvotes
KodaChrome25
By KodaChrome25 (2 months ago)

@flysurfer - Thank You!

0 upvotes
Just another Canon shooter
By Just another Canon shooter (2 months ago)

Thanks!

0 upvotes
gerard boulanger
By gerard boulanger (2 months ago)

Only one glove... Why?

2 upvotes
backayonder
By backayonder (2 months ago)

His tribute to Michael Jackson?

3 upvotes
sebastian huvenaars
By sebastian huvenaars (2 months ago)

Wow awesome thanks!

That collections deserves a dedicated museum...

1 upvote
Derek Dean
By Derek Dean (2 months ago)

Yes, a nice video, but I was hoping to see a bit more in depth of what they are doing to preserve those photos and make them more accessible.

It was pointed out that most of them hadn't been published. Kind of a waste. I'd love to while away a few hours browsing that collection.

0 upvotes
backayonder
By backayonder (2 months ago)

As Photographers do you ever wonder what will happen to your images when you go to that great F stop in the sky? Do you worry that all those images laying dormant on obsolete hard drives will be thrown away okay perhaps it is just me then but I do wish that there was some sort of archive available for ordinary folk.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
1 upvote
Neville Dukes
By Neville Dukes (2 months ago)

For exactly that reason I print all my best ones up to 18"x12" and file them or mount and frame them. Heading into my late 60's now I share your concerns that image files in electronic media can dissappear quickly forever after the artist is gone. In any event I don't really accept that the image process is definitively complete until it is printed.

1 upvote
Dan Goldman
By Dan Goldman (2 months ago)

Now, that thought almost made me shed a tear.

A good thing would be an appendix to the will in terms of a list with all accounts and passwords to storage devices (i.e. google drive) and local pc/media servers. An unencrypted hard drive can easily be installed in a new PC.

Every time I go through old unprocessed pics I find new ones, interesting expressions, moments, etc. To print all that would be impractical at the time the picture was taken.

I went digital in 2001 so soon I will have roughly 1TB of data. It doesn't cost that much to store that (compare cost to all gear we buy) in a proper place and hand it over to the love ones when the time comes.

Dan

0 upvotes
Fahd
By Fahd (2 months ago)

I'm sure if you'd post them to flick r or Facebook they'd live on forever assuming they're worthy and you don't mind sharing them in public.

0 upvotes
InTheMist
By InTheMist (2 months ago)

In fact, I worry about it a lot.

One of my kids has a little aptitude in photography and I'll leave everything to her, with copies to the others. That, and I'm printing my very best.

That and online.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
Monochrom
By Monochrom (2 months ago)

That's why a still shoot a lot of black&white film.
When i see young parents shooting all those once in a lifetime events of their kids with a smartphone, i can't help wondering if these kids will still have access to the pics by the time they are sixty...

2 upvotes
Paul Roark
By Paul Roark (2 months ago)

Those brown file folders look like the acidic ones I have. I've found the acids from them attack silver prints that are in the same metal file cabinet. I wonder what they are doing to fight the air-borne acids in that storage facility.
Paul
www.PaulRoark.com

0 upvotes
h2k
By h2k (2 months ago)

High on atmosphere, low on information.

0 upvotes
Total comments: 41