“I have a mountain of photographs lying around here… What should I do with them?,” by Stanley Pranin

If you’ve been following our efforts for the last nine or so months, you will realize that we have been building a new base on which to preserve and disseminate the vast store of documentation we have accumulated during 40 years of research and publication. We have the Aikido Journal Members Site in place. We have opened a dojo directory recently. Then, just the other day we have launched our new store which focuses on downloadable products, something readers have long requested.

It is in connection with the “Store” site that I would like to get your opinions about a matter that has long concerned me. Basically, in our photo collection we have somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 thousand images… maybe more. It would take literally weeks to count everything! Of course over the years, we have published thousands of photos in the old Aiki News / Aikido Journal magazines, and more recently on our succession of websites.

Consider the dilemma… The printed medium–unless one is a large organization with ample means– is a poor one for reproducing photographs. Likewise, webmasters are always looking to compress images to save space for rapid loading of data, often to the great detriment of image quality. Thus, the two main media normally relied on to reproduce photos offer little when one thinks of the long-term preservation of high-quality photographic images.

As with almost everything else these days, along comes the Internet to the rescue! Since we now have the platform of the Members Site, we can also offer photo downloads–just like we do for ebooks and videos–that are of very high resolution, that one could take to a printing service and blow up to a large size and still have excellent quality. That would be one way of solving the problem of preserving and disseminating these important historical documents.

Another way of proceding would be to produce ebooks, something like coffee-table books, in PDF format. These would feature the most historically important photos along with explanations concerning their significance. Although the resolution of photos in this format would be higher than those used on websites, it would not equal those offered specifically for printing and display.

At this point, I have an observation to make about the interiors of dojos in general. Over the years, I have seen some lovely dojo setups that created a wonderful atmosphere for training. Often, plants, hanging scrolls, and other elements have been used to create a specific look. Most dojos have a few photos as well, starting with the shomen photo which usually features Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei. A few of these schools have made very good use of photos to give the dojo interior an attractive and welcoming feeling.

Since it is not a terribly expensive thing to do and can produce a strong psychological impact, I’ve often wondered why more dojos haven’t created photo displays. Think of what some restaurants have done with photos expressing a particular theme to enhance their interiors. Certainly, you have seen such establishments.

In closing, I wanted to get your ideas on how to go about offering high-quality photos to the greater aikido community. This would serve the dual purpose of improving dojo interiors, and the preservation of especially important images for generations to come.

Please weigh in with your comments.


  1. Toni Rodrigues says:

    By all means Stan, produce the e-books. But, please do not get rid of the paper copies after you digitize them. We all know photographic prints more than a hundred years old but nobody knows for sure what will happen to all of the digitalized images 20 years from now. We now know for sure that CDs, for instance, do not last for more than 10/15 years and many of us who had archived data on his kind of media, lost it.

  2. frederic veer says:

    Hi Stan,

    One point you neglect is that photographs degrade.

    Another point is if you make books about what you think is important you might miss something because you do not know who is in the photo.

    The photo of O-sensei with the head of the kuki family is only important if you know who it is. Then you can put in into context.

    I think the whole archieve should be scanned in high resolution.

    Who knows what historical news can be found there.

    The cost etc wouyld be prohibitve for you. Maybere there is somebody who does aikido at google ?

    They have the resources to do this.

    Anyway eventually you either need to make a library or museum, or after your death the collection will disappear.

    A virtual library/museum might be the answer.

  3. Stan
    Methinks you should do both: Archive the paper copies in a state of the art foto archive using the appropriate materials and storage rooms AND digitize them for easy access.
    You need help for that.
    I can see two ways to go about this:
    Either raise money for the project, hire people to do it and do it all under your own control. Eventually you’ll have a museum.
    Or find some existing body either in the museum/archive world or in the martial arts world that you can trust and turn over the “Stan Pranin collection” to them.
    In any case it’s about time those pics come out of their shoe boxes!
    Good luck and best wishes,

  4. Auction some originals to qualified buyers, retaining high resolution digital files and hard copies. Use the funds to preserve the rest. Sell good hard copy and high resolution digital files to sustain the effort. Yes. Setting up the auction will require (a lot) more management than eBay.

    By the way, did you know that present hard copy photographic technology is qualitatively different and inferior to that of even half a century ago? I’m told that the number of gray shades in a black and white negative or print is a fraction of what is found in earlier images. So, digital images may better preserve old originals than hard copy reproductions. It is, by the way, still possible to make your own photgraphic emulsions. I met a gentleman who makes his using platinum instead of silver. Yes. It is more expensive, but between that and controlling the quality of the paper, he creates images which are more stable than Ansel Adams’.

  5. Keith E. McInnis says:

    It is a huge job to scan all those images and watermark them to protect them without interfering with the ability to make a nice print. In the PDF book I recently commented on the image quality was very good but not ‘photo ready.’ Perhaps link access to photo ready large file size PDF’s on the website to the purchase of ebooks. That would be a ‘bonus’ to getting the book, increase traffic etc.? The idea of decorating the dojo with relevant photos is excellent. With digital technology the ability to print in color, b/w, sepia, ‘washed out color’ etc. is a click a way to match the theme of the dojo decor. I have many favorite photos. The ones of OSensei doing stretches I find delightful in many ways. It is easy to include quotes from O Sensei on an image and I have used this in a newsletter.

  6. Peter John Still says:

    the initial database need not be high-resolution, just matched perfectly to the physical
    cataloging. After that: the high resolution copies could be created on demand – – – and of course,
    obvious candidates could be “cherry-picked” also. Rigourously include the datafield for
    “where previously published”, and also include a wiki-datafield for member-suggested
    identification of undocumented folks in the image.
    If you were to trying to keep this project in-house,
    maybe summer retreats of 2/3 cataloging, 1/3 keiko???? – – – especially if there’s a clever
    way to match volunteers to images from their own lineage.
    And maybe transfer the whole collection (or in batches)
    to somewhere super-attractive for such summer
    retreats (the artsy hills of Arizona? some retired archivist up at Lake Tahoe? Iwama????)

  7. Keith E. McInnis says:

    My brother is a fine art photographer (MFA Tulane) and teaches. He has done quite a bit of platinum emulsions, does museum quality reproductions etc. It is true that image quality is probably best preserved by digital means IF the original negative is not available. If it is a properly crafted a platinum print is still the reference standard. He has printed from 19th century glass, early 20thc emulsions and some other stuff. It is VERY expensive at the current cost of platinum-easily over a thousand per print. But for the right collector a platinum print made from an original negative of OSensei might be just the thing.
    Sincere offer, FYI

    • Good input, Keith. Most of the historical stuff is from copied photos, hence there are few negatives other than what I made from copies. For the modern stuff, I personally took thousands of photos and thus have the negatives.

      • Keith E. McInnis says:

        I may have seen your photos but not known you took them. I am developing (pardon the pun) my aikido photo skills (have FB Aikido PHoto group). I have done a lot of specialized sports photo work for amazing athletes but Aikido presents special challenges. I’d bet you have some of Aikido’s greats in your collection that would do well as fine art prints!

  8. David Soroko says:

    Wiki (as in wikipedia) all can see, some can edit. There is now useful way over 100k images can be published in PDF or any other format that is accessible by a single person.

    • Another good idea. Perhaps a pdf file containing small size images for the purpose of cataloging, and then high-resolution files of the important items can be offeroffered

      You folks have really got my mind working fast!

      Keep them coming.

  9. Craig Constantine says:

    You definitely need help. Do you have a “real” museum near you? …go and ask to speak to their curator(s). Ask them how they curate the materials you need to deal with. Make a new friend, and see what doors open up!

    I bet there are industry standard practices, materials, software, etc. Once you know what types of solutions are available, you can assess monetary need.

    You could consider creating a non-profit US corporation to steward the information. Eventually, the entity should also continue to see new information, etc. Various people in the aikido community would then donate time or money to the entity. One day, perhaps, it will buy some land, and build an actual museum. 😉

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