Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Secret's Out

Well, I guess the secret is out... I've talked at least a couple of times about the wonderful historic photograph resources at the Library of Congress, and how some interesting parts of their archives are digitized - some of them with large enough downloadable files to be able to print a nice 11x14 print. Everything from Walker Evans, to Ansel Adams, to the Depression in Colour to Panoramics of 1920's bathing beauty competitions to Gardner and Brady's Civil War photographs and more.

The problem was that the good digitized images were always a little hard to search out on their database - which in itself was an iteration of some pretty early work in collections databases. Although it is reasonably efficient, it is a little clunky by today's standards.

Now, the LoC has decided to put part of it's digital collections online on Flickr. They've started with the FSA/Depression in Colour work and also New in the 1910's - I think, to test the waters. Hopefully more will go up with time. The files sizes are also modest (a function of Flickr I think) - but they have links to the higher-res files when they exist.

In response to this move by the LoC, one of my photo-archivist colleagues commented:

"It is more than just an opportunity for user access. Crowdsourcing the onerous task of tagging/SEO-ing/researching digitized materials is, in my research and work, a way to _translate_ collections on line in ways that utilize the emerging social and semantic technologies to move beyond merely early 90s style emulation of meatspace. Not only does your collection get organized/worked on for free but socialized, publicized and spread with potential for as-yet undefined pedagocial richness."

Which - when you unpack it - is actually pretty interesting...

(I wasn't going to bother with the captions, but I just had to add this one: "An American pineapple, of the kind the Axis finds hard to digest, is ready to leave the hand of an infantryman in training at Fort Belvoir, Va. American soldiers make good grenade throwers")

There have also been quite a few blogposts about this, but my favourite was from Mrs. Deane who pointed out that the LoC pictures are starting to get typically Flickresque comments:
"nice sharp photograph"

"excellent and very artistic photo! ;]" (I'm sure Jack Delano would be pleased to know it... but he passed away in 1997...)

"Hi, I'm an admin for a group and we'd love to have your photo added to the group." (hmm - see above)

“Very good detail and wide dynamic range in the image. I suppose the transparency is bigger then 35mm” (Damn right it is - and it gave better pictures back in 1943 than your DSLR is ever likely to give today!)
Love it! (though I'd have to say there really are many more "wow" comments in response to people discovering not only that the 1940's were in colour, but also what fantastic pictures there are in this collection and are available to them).

BTW, the Wisconsin Historical Society has also started doing this with their collection, including the intriguing Wisconsin Death Trip Photographs. Their digital imaging specialist is Andy Adams of Flakphoto

(Oh - and if anyone finds a comment pointing out to Andreas Feninger that his picture would be better if he used the rule of thirds, he should set the iso on 400 on his digicam and should really introduce some Gaussian Blur into the sky, do let me know)


Tom White said...

The LOC has a fantastic archive. I too wish it were more navigable, I would spend hours on there. Maybe the flickr interface will help!

Unknown said...


Where did you find these beautifull pictures, i wish i found them

greetings from a sunny amsterdam