Like many businesses, the origins of EverPresent are personal: in 2009 a ninety-one-year-old World War II veteran living in Florida had a collection of 10,000 unsorted photos. The pictures dated from the 1920s, when the veteran was a baby boy, to all the decades beyond. A visual link to the past, the photos were moldering in the bottom of his closet unseen, unappreciated, and with no plan to preserve and share them. Their loss or destruction would have been devastating for the entire family. At this point, the veteran’s grandson, EverPresent co-founder Eric Niloff, stepped in to help.
Determined to preserve the photos permanently, Eric and his wife Jennifer searched for a company to digitize his grandfather’s history. They wanted a partner and a consultant, a business they could trust. What they discovered was disappointing. That disappointment, as it raised questions (why is this so difficult?), also presented possibilities. Together with Eric’s friend and fellow Parthenon Group consultant Chris Acton-Maher, Eric and Jennifer launched EverPresent in 2012. The company digitizes all formats of video, film, audio tape, photographs and slides; offers in-home consulting and also creates order out of chaos from clients’ fragmented digital collections. In other words, EverPresent preserves memories.
With technology ever evolving, people have collections they can’t watch or listen to; in a sense, memories are lost—or at least locked away. By digitizing seemingly ancient formats (remember 8mm film?), EverPresent opens a trove—forgotten faces, distant voices and handwritten letters. For instance, they recently digitized reel-to-reel tapes recorded by Historic Newton supporter Newell Flather, who had served in the first class of Peace Corps volunteers. Describing EverPresent’s work as “wondrous,” Flather says “I can hear voices of students I taught in high school over 50 years ago in Ghana.” Next, Flather is going to have EverPresent digitize movies that his father took over 80 years ago, which he says “I have no idea how to watch them.” When EverPresent’s work is done, Newell adds, “I’ll be able to look at a family time before I was born and thereafter.”
“You give people back these archives, dozens and dozens of hours of videos and thousands of photos, and you think people want to go home and look at things in the privacy of their own homes,” Eric says. “But literally it’s sometimes decades of having been unable to watch the formats or see things for the first time. They don’t even want to wait five more minutes.” It is not uncommon for clients picking up their digital conversions and original materials to start immediately looking through them at the counter. Some clients regale EverPresent consultants with stories. Others cry.
Beyond simply digitizing a collection, EverPresent consultants can also visit a client’s home for even more high-touch work. “Clients don’t have the time to spend 50 hours at their kitchen table picking which photos from hundreds or thousands to digitize,” Eric comments. “It’s one of those situations where it might take a family five minutes to decide between two photos where there really is no wrong answer. We’ll talk to them about their priorities. Do they just want to digitize photos of family gatherings? In that case, we won’t scan landscapes.”
EverPresent also provides consulting services for those saddled with massive digital libraries and no time to cull and curate—everyone from digital immigrants and baby boomers to millennials and Instagram devotees. In the smart phone world, it’s now so easy to take photos and videos that people can quickly amass thousands of images. Call it digital clutter or 21st century hoarding—whatever the name, 10,000 unorganized digital photos can be, like too many choices, overwhelming. EverPresent can take all the photos from a client’s devices, de-duplicate images and highlight the best quality ones, tagging them to make the resulting digital library completely searchable by person, location or category. All this work leaves EverPresent’s clients with the enjoyable job of sharing them with friends and family and telling stories.
“We think if someone enjoys making a holiday card or a photo book or a slide show at the end of the year for family gifts, they ought to be able to sit down at the end of the year and just look at the best couple of hundred items and not have to sift through 3,000,” Eric says. “We’ve found that, as a general rule, photos and videos ought to be a source of enjoyment for people but, more often, they’re a source of stress. That is a shame.”
Eric’s advice to anyone facing the project of organizing a family history in images is not to focus on perfection. If perfection is the standard, Eric says, “years will pass and the project won’t get done.” Perfect genealogical project archiving has its place in EverPresent’s work, but, as Eric notes, “people are just so happy to have the initial experience of seeing the old items and sharing them with the family, and having that relief, that we have learned to not over complicate projects initially. That it’s okay to have a 10-step project where we do digitizing first and worry about telling the story later.”
Fittingly, EverPresent, a new corporate member of Historic Newton, is headquartered in a building over 150 years old. The building began its life as a school house, and historic photos of the building adorn the walls. Because of the photos and other touches (such as a historic map of Newton Upper Falls), arriving for an EverPresent consultant appointment is a soothing experience. And soothing can be just what you need when entrusting irreplaceable family photos to anyone else.