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Photos + Stories Go Better Together: A Conversation with Cathi Nelson, CEO of The Photo Managers

Heather Nickerson, Artifcts
September 20, 2023

Reading time: 6 minutes

One of the great things about being in the ‘stuff’ business is that you never know who you’ll meet! Over the past few years, Ellen and I have had the joy of getting to know and working with Cathi Nelson, Founder & CEO of The Photo Managers. We met Cathi by way of Matt Paxton, who told us upfront that she is the end-all, be-all expert on all things photo managing and organizing. Several years and many conversations later we wholeheartedly agree!

In honor of Save Your Photos Month, we thought it would be fitting to highlight one of our many conversations with Cathi, who really is the undisputed expert on all things photo organizing. 

Heather Nickerson: Tell us a bit about yourself! What led you to get into photo managing?

Cathi Nelson: Reflecting on my career, I realize there has always been a common theme: My love of photography and storytelling. Prior to starting The Photo Managers, I spent 17 years teaching people how to create meaningful scrapbook photo albums. I hosted large events where hundreds of women would come and spend the entire weekend working on albums for their families. Walking around the room, I realized this was more than people cutting photos into shapes and adding decorations. This was a way for people to share their legacies, and photos invoke memories and stories. 

By 2009, I noticed a significant shift in the photography landscape. The rise of digital photography meant that fewer people were printing their photos, and this change impacted my business. The turning point came when a customer asked how much I would charge to organize her digital and printed photos. It was at this moment that I realized there was a growing need for assistance, and I started a business called Photos Simplified.

Nickerson: So you started your own, wildly successful business, why not stop there? Why start The Photo Managers? You were obviously very busy with your own work, raising your family, and authoring your book! What prompted you to create a global network of like-minded professionals?

Nelson: The response from clients to my new business concept was overwhelmingly positive. As other scrapbooking professionals and residential organizers started learning about my success, they came to me seeking guidance in starting their own photo-organizing businesses. I realized that to ensure this emerging profession continued I would need to create a code of ethics, certification, and best practices, thus The Photo Managers was born. I chose a membership model, and over the years we’ve grown into a global community of hundreds of professionals dedicated to preserving and celebrating the rich tapestry of memories in our digital age. 

Nickerson: And then you did it again with Save Your Photos Month (SYPM)! Tell us a bit about how and why you started SYPM. I think a lot of people take for granted that SYPM is the month of September, except it wasn't until you built it!

Nelson: I launched Save Your Photos Day for the first time in 2014 as a one-day event. The concept grew out of viewing news stories about people being united with lost photos from Hurricane Sandy and the Joplin Missouri tornadoes. I would watch the news and it was so heartwarming to observe how people rose up to help, bringing food, water, clothes, and kindness.

Once the initial shock wears off a new wave of recovery efforts evolves, finding and restoring lost photos. Hundreds of volunteers have helped in these communities, carefully washing and restoring photos. Their efforts pay off when a family that has lost everything is reunited with even one precious photo. Thus, the concept of International Save Your Photos Day began.

The original concept was to save thousands of photos in just one day. Yet we found that one day just wasn't realistic and realized, why not make it a month!  So, in 2016 we rebranded it to Save Your Photos Month and each year we expand the variety of topics, classes, and conversations. Today this is even more important as the news is full of extreme weather disasters that impact family photos and priceless belongings.

Nickerson: Any tips for our Arti Community Members who are feeling overwhelmed by digital and physical photos? They know they want to do something with them, but don't always know where to start or what to do.

Nelson: First you aren’t alone if feeling overwhelmed. Most do, including me! Second, it didn’t take a weekend to create all those photos, so it does take time to sort through and organize them, but it’s worth it! 

Here is a quick summary of our 5 tips for photo organizing.

      1. DEFINE YOUR GOAL, what would success look like?
      2. GATHER EVERYTHING and ACCESS what you’ve got. This can be as simple as “3 hard drives,” “4 iPhones,” and “5 boxes of printed photos.”
      3. SORT and CATEGORIZE—sort the photos into categories that make sense to you. Categories might include location, date range, events, products, or something thematic like “landscapes.” Edit your collection as you go, discarding or deleting duplicates and any blurry or “not so great” images.
      4. If you have any printed photos or slides, now is the time to scan. Decide if you want to do it yourself or hire a professional to do it for you.
      5. SHARE . And the options are endless … Artifcts, photo books, websites, slideshows, even the collection itself!

Nickerson: When should you consider hiring a photo manager?

Nelson: When life happens! I just hired a photo organizer myself because my son was getting married, and I wanted to create a video montage of his early years and his fiancé's early years set to music. I just didn’t have the time to scan the photos or sort through hundreds of images. It was so worth it! So, my advice is don’t put this off, hoping someday you’ll have the time.

Nickerson: We've heard our own Arti Community Members say—when they first learn about photo managers —"Ooh, they're like magic photo fairies, how cool." We know they work magic with photo collections large and small, but what are two or three things that make photo managers so special?

Nelson: This is a great question, and I have thought a lot about this over the years. There are two common traits I see in professional photo managers. They are curious about history, stories, and people, otherwise they wouldn’t want to look at someone else's photo collection. Plus, they are usually lifelong learners, because technology keeps changing and to be successful you have to keep up.

Nickerson: Do you have any particular project that you especially liked working on over the years? Something our members may be able to relate to?

Nelson: I really like working on themes and using photos to tell stories. A few years ago, I created a mini photo album as a gift to the important people in my life. I added a few photos, the story of how we met and what I appreciated most about each person. I then sent it to each of them as an invitation to a party to celebrate my milestone birthday and the gift of friendship.

Nickerson: What's next for you and The Photo Managers?

Nelson: The need for professional photo managers is only increasing and I recently formed an Advisory Board of members to help us envision the next 10 years. When I started this over 15 years ago, I never dreamed that I would build something that would live long beyond me. I feel a great sense of responsibility to ensure that this profession continues to thrive for the members and the customers we serve.

Nickerson: Last but not least, you know all about Artifcts. How do you think Artifcts could help photo managers with their work?

Nelson: I love Artifcts because early on I realized that photos are just one piece of the puzzle. People also keep letters, children's artwork, babies' first shoes, medals, and other objects. Having the ability to share those items and stories for future generations fits perfectly into what I intuitively observed all those years ago. We are a people of stories, and we tell our stories and what we care about through photos and keepsake items.

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You can learn more about The Photo Managers and even where to find a Photo Manager to help you based on where you live by going directly to the official website.

© 2023 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Emergency Go Bag: Don't Forget the Memories

Reading time: 5 minutes

As spring cleaning continues and storms rage, we’re taking a moment to help you make the most of that frenzy to also boost your preparedness, a key theme here at Artifcts.

We’ve shared with you the true story of our co-founder Ellen who experienced a home fire at the age of seven and encouraged you to consider what objects in your home matter most. Whether you’re in a location prone to wildfires, floods, tornados, or other extreme weather events, preparation is key.

We also recently shared the story of a woman who proactively relocated her cherished belongings to a secure, climate-controlled storage facility out of harm’s way from the California wildfires only to have a flood at the storage facility destroy many of her belongings, photos, videos, and documents included.

Today is all about your emergency go-bag. Do you have one? Think twice, and consider these essential questions:

      • Does your go-bag address the needs of each person in your household? 
      • Are the items inside fully charged?
      • Have any medicine or food items expired?
      • Did you borrow an item from the bag and never replace it?
      • Have you done anything to include the heart-value items in life that will see you through and beyond a life-changing disaster?

Let's take a closer look at the important elements of your go bag. Read on!

How to Prepare Against the Unexpected – Digital for the Win!

Well, maybe there’s no "winning" when it comes to disasters. Loss is real and painful. But we can mitigate our losses with less effort and time than ever before, along with the promise of far greater security and resiliency. How? Digitizing key personal information is your answer to recover faster and with less stress.

Just like we take advantage of advances in modern medicine to live longer, healthier, more active lives, we should take advantage of advances in digitization that make it easier and cheaper than ever to keep digital copies at our fingertips for critical documents. In an emergency, please have digitized and securely stored:

      • IDs, including driver’s license, military ID, employment ID, passport; it’s especially important to have at least one form of ID digitized that has your photo on it.  
      • Insurance cards 
      • Mortgages and titles for homes, cars, and other high-value assets 
      • Financial details, most likely in the form of online access to your accounts. But we also recommend securely stored digital copies of credit and debit cards for deactivation against fraud and rapid replacement. 
      • Contact lists. Do you know the phone numbers of your neighbors, your financial planner, your insurance company? We’d be shocked if you did. They are likely only stored on your phone. 
      • Photos. Okay, hear us out. We are talking about photos you might have in hardcopy and photos that you may have stored digitally on a drive and not yet backed up elsewhere. We strongly recommend using a backup for your digitized photos and other media.

With all these items digitized, you could in theory gain access to resources to replace what you lose if you need to leave your home urgently.  

Notice that Artifcts will be publishing an article about digital vaults soon

Now, About That Go Bag

Your go bags—which we hope are light weight and at least water resistant—will offer immediate, short-term security. Backpacks are your best bet for any variety of circumstances. DO NOT bet on carting around bins or boxes of any kind. You should hope these are fireproof and redundant. See our earlier point about digitization! 

Suggested contents for a bag can be absurdly loooong. Having consulted those lists and experienced go-bag moments ourselves, here’s what’s always in ours. The big exception is cold weather environments – at the start of the season, we add gloves, hats, hand warmers, and foil wraps.

      • Slip photocopies of a driver’s license, passport, or other ID for each adult in the household and your insurance information (home, car, and health) in an easily accessible waterproof pouch. A plethora of inexpensive pouches are available online and in retail stores, especially sporting goods and luggage.  
      • Changes of clothing, especially undergarments. 
      • Medicines, but be careful they do not expire, and ear plugs. You don’t know where you may need to sleep, and quality sleep is vital. 
      • Multiple battery packs (to charge devices we hope you’ll be able to have with you) 
      • A water purification device, such as a Grayl, so no matter where you are displaced to, you’ll have access to safe drinking water. On the topic of water, we also keep Nuun or similar in our bag for a hydration boost. If you’re in a hot climate, chugging water, working hard clearing property or otherwise on your feet, you may need some electrolytes on your side to pop into your water. 
      • Long shelf-life, macronutrient complete snacks. No, we shouldn’t subsist on meal-replacement bars, but if there were ever a time, this is it. Just make sure whatever you choose aligns with your dietary restrictions. Shelf-stable protein shakes work great, too. Jerkies, nuts and dried fruits, as well, but watch out for nuts which expire more quickly.

Forgetting Something? What Says Home, Comfort, and Family to You?

Creature comforts and irreplaceable items need to make that go-bag. Will you die without them? No. Will you feel better, have an excuse to smile, in a sad and stressful situation? Very likely.

This weekend, ask each person in your home what one or two items would they most want to take in an emergency, and record that information digitally in your mobile phone, so if time permits you are prepared to act, not ask.

      • When kids are young, creature comforts might be a lovey, but you could also prepack a spare of that lovey, along with small games and a cozy blanket and an inflatable pillow.
      • For us adults, your backup drives can live in your go bag if you do not have a cloud-based backup. Any cherished or valuable to you items tucked safely away? Can they go safely in this pre-packed bag instead of the back of a closet or box? When a fire sweeps a home, you may have only seconds to grab and go before smoke or fire stops you.

If your first step is to purchase a pre-made emergency go bag from the myriad of online and brick-and-mortar shops, super. But we hope you'll choose to take steps for you and your loved ones toward a more personal go-bag to protect yourselves. Explore our Allies in 'Stuff' as well for resources and professionals that can help lift the burden off you.

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© 2024 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Use Your Voice: Artifcts Now Offers In-App Audio & Video Recording

There’s something magical about hearing a story from the voice of the original storyteller. The melody of their voice, their points of emphasis, the word choices that are uniquely them.

While you might be the type who has lots of videos and voice memos on your phone at the ready to Artifct, others of us might be more of the spontaneous variety. 

Our newest update to the Artifcts app is going to support you as you capture these stories. 

Update the Artifcts App Today: Record Audio and Video Directly in the App! 

Next time you open the Artifcts app, you’ll see an update is required. Accept it, wait moments, and voila, you’ll have our brand new recording feature. (Haven’t downloaded our app yet? Eek! Here you go for iOS/App Store and Android/Google Play.) 

When you click to create a new Artifct—or add a new media file to an existing Artifct—you will be able to choose to record audio or video in the moment.  

And we went a step further, too, to remove any frustration by making it simple to: 

  • Trim your recording to fit the file size available for your Artifct.
  • Compress your recording if you want to make room for longer recordings.
  • Strip out the video to keep the audio only.
  • Download your recording to your device to edit later.

Here’s a case when “a picture is worth 1,000 words.” In the pictures that follow, we show you what it looks like step by step to record a video within the Artifcts app when you are creating a new Artifct.

Step 1 - Open the Artifcts App

Step 2 - Choose '+ Artifcts', Artifcts App

Step 3 - Record and Save, Artifcts App

Step 4 - Enjoy & Share, Artifcts App

Try it out and see what you think! 

Next time you’re inspired, or a friend or family starts telling a great tall tale, grab your phone, open up the app and record.

Don’t worry if your story runs long. You will have an option to trim it, compress it, or save it to your device in its entirety before trimming the best part to include in the Artifct. You can always link later in your Artifct to the full hour-long saga if you wish for posterity!

Need inspiration? The options are endless. Here are a few from the Arti Community: 

      • Ghost stories: Grandpa telling a ghost story + photo of the person who was a ghost.
      • Attic cleanout: Auntie Tess holding up an old gown + recording of her talking about her Broadway debut (Broadway Street in Kansas City, Missouri, that is).
      • Get cookin’! Photos of the recipe card, key ingredients, and end result + video explaining how to wrap the dumpling just so.

Great Great Grandma's Wedding Ring, Artifcts

 
 
Bonus example: Our co-founder @egoody captured some family history in a sitdown with her great aunt. Whose ring was it originally anyway?

As always with all of the features of Artifcts, but especially major new deliveries like this one, we love and appreciate your feedback. You can contact us at Hello@Artifcts.com.

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© 2024 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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What Should You Do With Old Photo Albums?

Reading time: 5 minutes 

Dusty albums. Bulky albums. What do we do with you? We want to lighten our loads and declutter without guilt. 

Who among us compiles physical photo albums anymore? "Back in the day” a store like Target would have had a huge photo department. You could purchase and process film and buy photo frames and albums, along with supplemental inserts in a dizzying array of designs and sizes. 

No, not so anymore.

As we’ve shifted to digital photos, we’ve likewise replaced physical albums with digital-friendly options, including build-your-own photo books, shared digital albums on social media and cloud storage sites, and digital photo frames, like the beautiful frames from Aura. Physical photo albums today are usually reserved for major milestone events, like weddings, trips, and anniversaries, when we feel it’s worthwhile to sit down and thoughtfully curate those experiences.  

Those of us with photo albums tucked in our closets and bookshelves, those that we have created and inherited, not to mention the albums our parents and grandparents own and we’ll inherit one day, need solutions. What do we do with all the existing albums, so they avoid landing in a craft shop or, worse, a dumpster when the details about the people and stories within are lost to time? 

Photo Albums Have Problematic Similarities to Scrapbooks 

Like scrapbooks, photo albums are designed to be shared, in person, and talked through, reminiscing about and reliving with the telling the places you’ve been, the experiences you have had, and more. Unfortunately, also like scrapbooks, photo albums present long-term challenges: 

      1. Do you know the stories behind the photos? (We have tips for that!) Will you remember them? Scrapbooks tend to at least provide more leeway to add notes and stories than photo albums. Stories behind the photos are incredibly vulnerable to being forgotten. We can animate photos in creepy ways, but they cannot remember for us the stories lost. Look back through your albums. Do you recall all the people and events in a way that’s meaningful anymore? 
      2. Albums, the pages within, and the photos will deteriorate. Little known fact outside the photo industry: Those photo prints you ordered in single and even triplicate were never meant to last more than a dozen years, and that's for the highest quality pritns! That’s why the colors change as the chemicals used to create the images degrade and the paper eventually becomes more fragile, too. 
      3. Your album is singular and unique, unless you have access to the negatives. But even then, those are decaying with every passing day as well, so ... 
      4. Albums can be bulky. Do you have room to continue to store them? What about those you may inherit? They are substantial in size and often uncooperative with short shelves and shallow storage. In the words of one Arti Community member, "I’m in my 40s and my albums are still at my parents’ house. I didn't feel the need to take them with me, but, yes, someday I’ll hold onto them. I don’t want to throw them away."

How Can You Preserve Photo Albums?  

And maybe even let some photo albums go ... 

Share the love. At the risk of making a lot of people very angry, we have to say it: You are not beholden to anyone to hold onto your own albums or anyone else's albums. Ask! Do YOU want them? 

Don’t fall for the guilt trip you are getting or think you’ll get. Ideally, you should consider yourself a steward of the history within those albums and as such, ask family members if they want the albums before you take them apart or get rid of them. It’s the kind thing to do. But beyond that, ...

... Digitization has never been easier or more affordable. We have shared tips about digitization in general. You can buy machines to do it yourself, but there’s a catch. We turned to Cathi Nelson, founder and CEO of The Photo Managers, to explain: 

"Many people created scrapbook photo albums during the decades of scrapbooking and those albums are often 12x12, which is too big for traditional flatbed scanners. You can outsource this project to a professional photo manager whose scans allow them to capture the entire page and individual photos.  

If that is not in your budget, and you have a flatbed scanner, such as the Epson v600, scan each page and use photo stitching software to magically merge the pages.  

Another option is to carefullly remove the photos and scan them (front and back). If they are stuck to the pages, you can use a butter knife or dental floss to gently remove the photos."

We want to also celebrate the amazing ease with which apps from modern photo companies like Photomyne and VividPix —with scanners at local museums, libraries, and historical societies that can scan whole album pages up to 11.8" x 17″—can slice up each photo on the page into its own file photo or image file. No need to take the pages apart or tediously scan them one by one. This is great for do-it-yourselfers!

Digitization Wisdom

Before you and as you digitize, keep three things in mind:  

  • Photo layouts may be a part of the story. Some albums may be chronological or thematic. Others are designed for people to arrange photos in a way that may inherently help them to share stories, too. Take this example:

yellowed photo album page with baby photos

Had I scanned each photo and then disassembled the photo album, I would have disconnected these photos from the story of that day as captured in the Artifct, zapping their collective ability to convey a piece of my childhood. Instead, I could photograph or video the album before dismantling, if that’s what I decide to do with the album.

  • Capture ALL the details. You scanned the fronts to get the job done quickly, but did you even look at the backs? Now that you have, how will you preserve the additional details on the back with the photo? In a good-better-best plan, this could be: 
      • Create an index as you go for your photos with the file name and other details you care about (location, people, event, ...) or edit the photo metadata (e.g. date, location, and other information stored with the image file) with the additional information; 
      • Transform the album into a photo book and add the information in the image captions;  
      • Artifct the photos and include what you know about them. Check out our interrogation techniques for photos.
  • Share the stories behind the photos. CONNECT with your loved ones. Don’t be annoying and share 100s of photos from a single trip. Tell them the “best of” or most meaningful moments. Artifct the best ones! Artifcts are easy to share, helping you get the story out there so it can live on. You might also share the Artifct with a friend who is going on a trip to the same place you went and want your tips! You can also easily share an Artifct to a friend’s or family member’s digital photo frame. Ask them how.  

If you are taking the time to create photo albums, maybe take time to create an additional Artifct or two to go with each album, even if the Artifct is of the album itself, and is your story of why you created it, what it means to you, etc. Bonus, you can include audio and video and bring your photo album to life for the next generation.

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Other ARTIcles by Artifcts you may enjoy: 

Photos + Stories Go Better Together: A Conversation with Cathi Nelson, CEO of The Photo Managers

Storytellers, Beware!

Rescue Mission: That’s More Than a Photo

© 2024 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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