How does iPhoto fit into digital preservation? Sort of like Rick Santorum in an ACLU meeting or a Yankees fan in Fenway Park. There’s at least one thing you have to use it for, and that’s importing pictures from an iOS device. But using it for anything you want to keep is a seriously bad idea.

Take a look at this article on Apple’s forums. A user asks a perfectly good question: How do you back up your iPhoto albums? The answer: “There is no album directory/folder. All the album info is stored in a data file that only has info of the album names and pointers to the actual photo files.” Look under “Pictures” in your user directory and you’ll find a folder called “iPhoto.” This may contain one or more library packages. A “package” is an invention of Apple’s intended to hide clutter from the user, as with an application that encompasses hundreds of support files the user shouldn’t have to mess with. In this case, though, it’s hiding essential information from the user. Fortunately, you can right-click it (that’s control-click for both of the people who don’t have a two-button mouse) and select “Show Package Contents.” This will bring up a window showing the contents of the package (which is just a folder in disguise); it’s rather bewildering. You can also right-click on a thumbnail in iPhoto and select “Show File” to see that file directly in the Finder.

Screen shot of an iPhoto library window

Screen shot of an iPhoto library window

Note: A question has been raised about the screenshot, with a warning that relying on it may “lead to massive data loss.” See discussion here.

The package has a folder called “Data” which is an alias to another folder within the package; this contains your actual JPEG files, carefully hidden from you. It may also contain other packages; these represent other iPhoto albums, which aren’t even visible in the Finder. You might say they’re sub-albums, but iPhoto doesn’t show any hierarchical relationship.

As far as Adobe Bridge is concerned, the library package is a binary document which it doesn’t know how to open. This means you can’t so much as see a list of your iPhoto pictures with Bridge.

That may be just as well. According to advice Apple support forums, if you try to do anything with those files, you’re apt to confuse iPhoto hopelessly. It’s like a micromanaging boss; the more you assert yourself, the deeper the hole you’re digging yourself into.

iPhoto horror stories aren’t hard to find. Here are a few I located quickly by searching for “evil iPhoto” and “hate iPhoto”: