2022.05.13 | Projects
the Digital Archive program by Chi Po-lin Foundation

In 2017, Chi Po-lin, the director of Beyond Beauty - TAIWAN FROM ABOVE, left the world, with many works undone. He has left numerous priceless image assets, including aerial images of Taiwan accumulated for 25 years spanning from the 1990s to 2017. The materials not only retain the beauty of Taiwan, but are also regarded as irreplaceable in terms of academic research, advocacy for environmental protection, and environmental education. Therefore, in order to appreciate the Director's efforts and enable the future generations to make the most of these invaluable images that demonstrate the changes of nature, humanity, and landscape, the Chi Po-lin Foundation has designed a “digital archive” program that is best fit for purpose after having learned the ropes for two years. They digitize, categorize, and archive Director Chi’s works, in addition to establishing an online photography database to pass on the mission of keeping recording Taiwan.

According to the statistics of the Chi Po-lin Foundation, Director Chi Po-lin contributed to aerial shots on 100 thousand traditional films, 500 thousand digital photos, and roughly one thousand hours of aerial footage from flying for more than 2500 hours. Inevitably, the Foundation would consume plenty of money, time, and manpower to file and organize such a huge amount of image data. However, only if people come together can the relay marathon for digital archive specialists and professional volunteers become a beautiful and inspiring journey.

What is a digital archive?

A digital archive is a place of digital storage for the permanent safekeeping of valuable physical or non-physical information through digitization, such as photography, scanning, audiovisual shooting, or text input, coupled with metadata containing attribute data.

There are three workflows for the Chi Po-lin Foundation to execute the digital archive program, as follows.

Traditional Films: select films -> scan them as digital files -> add attribute data -> archive
Digital Photos: select photos -> add attribute data -> archive
Aerial Footage: select videos -> add attribute data -> archive

On top of digitizing and archiving Director Chi’s images and footage, the digital archive program also includes setting up an upgraded “iTaiwan8 Taiwan Aerial Photography Database.” This is a comprehensive online photography database where Director Chi’s works can be more flexibly used and brought to more people.

How does the Foundation organize the aerial images accumulated from 2500 hours of flying?

Organize films/ Digital scan

Chan Yu-wen, Digital Archive Specialist, is responsible for organizing traditional films. There are around 100 thousand raw films. Some are slightly defocused because of helicopter vibration, while some appear to be landscape and composition based on continuous, repeated flight paths. One of Chan Yu-wen’s tasks is to inspect them and select with a magnifier, mark the location and correct the image information.

“The most frequent issue for organizing films is manual errors. The data left was probably organized or written by Director Chi or other volunteers. They might attach the wrong labels or mark them wrong.” Chan Yu-wen said, from her experience, a photo of the Taipei Main Station was labeled in multiple years. She tried to search for clues and cross-check from the temperature or stock price showing on the news sticker of the billboard in the photo for the correct year. Although it sounds interesting, like a detective conducting an investigation, the process requires a high level of concentration and observation skills for most of the time.

Having selected the films, she proceeds with scanning and digitization. This is not an easy step, though. As the oldest films left by Director Chi Po-lin were produced at least 11 years ago, apart from the overall quality control and file management, she also has to correct the colors for old faded films, remove the spots on the photos, and save them as digital images in high resolution before moving on to the next.

Add attribute data

“Adding attribute data” is to add all kinds of descriptive information to images and footage. Chen Syuan-ying, Deputy Head of Digital Archive, takes the images that Director Chi took for example. The scope of attribute data covers the theme and location of shooting and keywords for interpreting the landscape. The most time-consuming part would be positioning and keyword creation.

“Positioning” means to identify the location and coordinates of the subject in images. Sometimes this can be deducted from flight trajectories, while positioning has to be mostly done on the basis of the specialists’ geographical knowledge and hints from photos in the absence of the trajectories. If the images are taken a long time ago, or landscapes change dramatically, the specialists should refer to more historical maps or evidence for inference.

“We need to interpret the photographs one by one and add attribute data. Built-in positioning feature is not available in traditional cameras, so it is normal that we only see a long line of mountain ridge. This is when we should map the photographs against historical data and satellite images, looking to locate them as precisely as possible,” stated Chen Syuan-ying.

"Keyword creation” seems relatively easy, but in fact, deciding keywords to be used alone requires a lot of effort. The first step is to recognize the details in a photograph or footage, for instance, the crops type on a farm. This is when we need to collect other information to help with the judgment. Besides, the scale of aerial photography is different. Rules should be discussed and set accordingly for creating keywords for how much proportion that certain landscapes account for. Last but not least, the specialists should also create keywords based on users’ search habits from their perspective.

Hence, in the process of adding attribute data, the Chi Po-lin Foundation has consulted with several experts to brainstorm and develop a logic to create keywords for aerial photography of Taiwan. Categorization, correcting and review would be performed to the logic so as to ensure proper organization and use of the images and footage.

Audiovisual archives

Compared with photograph organization, the archiving process for motion media is more diverse and complicated. In the first place, the specialists have to check the inventory of nearly a thousand hours of aerial footage, followed by file conversion for special formats and backup. The next step is to establish logic programming and a file management system for further addition of attribute data.

“We’ve encountered the following two challenges when organizing footage. On one hand, the distance could be large in footage with the helicopter taking off in Taichung and landing in Pingtung for example, so we need to identify the landscape and location of each frame of footage. On the other hand, a helicopter ascends a far vertical distance with a high vibration level. It is possible to have distortion effects caused by rolling shutters1,” explained Zheng Yu-cheng, Audiovisual Production Specialist. Since the file format, quality, and length of footage produced in different times are distinct, the difficulty of archiving has significantly leveled up.

Join the marathon of digital archiving and pass on the beauty of Taiwan

The scope of the digital archive program ranges from defining operating procedures step by step, unifying a color language, and purchasing image processing equipment, to training volunteers and interns, securing support from human resources to avoid manual errors from the collaborative handling of an enormous amount of data. Wang Li-wen, Deputy Director of Diverse Content Creativity, expressed that a “digital archive” is easier said than done. The process is very detailed and complex, which involves everyone’s constant concentration, patience, attention to details, and passion.

iTaiwan8 Taiwan Aerial Photography Database is one of the objectives of the digital archive program conducted by the Chi Po-lin Foundation. Launching an enhanced version is just the first step. After completing the archive of a massive amount of image data, the Foundation aims higher to keep recording Taiwan, so the images and videos wouldn’t stop in 2017.

“Speak out for the environment through images” is what Director Chi had been committed to throughout his life, as well as what the Foundation is going to continue. Director Chi’s life sustains with the digital archive program, and it also serves as the drive for the Foundation. It’s not easy to build a photography database to preserve the images showing landscape changes of the whole Taiwan. The Chi Po-lin Foundation urgently calls for support from all walks of life to establish the most astonishing photography database for Taiwan together. Let us protect the legacy images from Chi Po-lin, passing on the treasurous images of our land across generations and bringing more values out to play.

See Volunteers: Life is enriched by enriching others and enriching oneself
See Volunteers: Life is enriched by enriching others and enriching oneself