The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
I remember my surprise the day a traffic summons arrived in my mailbox, illustrated with the close-up and pixilated images of my car and license plate that were supposed to prove exactly how and where I had led my car astray. As someone interested in visual culture, I was amused by the little fuzzy pictures, at first. Then I thought about fighting the ticket—pictures do lie sometimes—but didn’t. But in the weeks that followed, I found myself looking around for surveillance cameras in or near intersections, whenever I came to a stop. It turns out that around that where I live, there are lots of them. Soon, there’ll be more. States and cities across the country—under pressure to generate revenue and enforce traffic laws with fewer cops on the beat—are installing more red-light cameras at intersections to collect evidence of cars that don’t stop when they should. Ever wonder how red-light cameras work, what they cost, or how much money they raise? What’s the most profitable day of the week? A recent article in the Chicago Tribune reveals ten interesting facts about the increasingly profitable intersection of photography and traffic.
In response to our recent Flickr Commons set highlighting women in science, Erin, our colleague from Smithsonian Libraries, did some deeper digging into one of the portraits in the mostly male Portraits of Scientists and Inventors set. Nadar's portrait above is wonderfully fanciful in comparison to some of the more staid portraits of these scientists.
Felix Nadar, aeronautical scientist and photographer, became an unexpected star of the Smithsonian Libraries’ Dibner Portrait collection in The Commons on Flickr. Although probably not a household name these days (and definitely not under his given name - Gaspard-Félix Touranchon Tournachon), Nadar was quite a character in 19th century France. Luminaries of all kinds, including George Sand and Marcel Proust, flocked to his Paris photography studio for portrait sittings. He was also a regular contributor to several French comic papers.
While experimenting with balloons, Nadar took the first aerial photo from one in 1858. His adventures with ballooning are said to have inspired Jules Verne’s book Five Weeks in a Balloon. Nadar later turned his attention to heavier aircraft, such as the helicopter, and in his 1910 New York Times obituary, Nadar was credited as having conceived of the idea of a “heavier-than-air flying machine” years before the first successful “aeroplane”.
This unusual portrait, showing Nadar aloft in aboard one of his balloons, has been featured in the online exhibit Scientific Identity: Portraits from the Dibner Library of Science and Technology for more than five years, but it wasn’t until Nadar made his debut on Flickr that he gained internet popularity. He is now a favorite of more than 200 people and featured in such unusual Flickr pools as “Basket World”. A colorful figure of the 19th century finding a new fanbase in the 21st!
Erin Rushing of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries.
Even if you have visited the Smithsonian in person, you probably don’t know that it’s comprised of 19 museums and 9 research centers. You can’t see it all by visiting the Mall in Washington D.C. since there are museums in New York and research centers in Maryland, Massachusetts, and Panama. Each museum and research center researches and collects around different topics, from African Art to Zoology.
The Smithsonian’s digital collections reflect this diversity. For several years, the Smithsonian Office of Chief Information Officer (OCIO) has been working to provide the public with a way to search across the Smithsonian’s diverse systems that house the Smithsonian’s digital collections (this effort was recently boosted by a Getty Foundation grant received by OCIO and the Smithsonian Photography Initiative). To date, you can search across 1.9 million records which include 195,000 images, video and sound files, mostly representing the disciplines of art, history, and culture. Most recently, the Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden was added to the mix and you can now view artworks by Ralston Crawford across SI. Search now.
Just how closely do radiologists look at what they’re supposed to be analyzing? Would knowing whose CT scans they were studying make medical technicians or doctors more empathetic and accurate in the work they do? That’s what Yehonatan N. Turner, a third-year resident in radiology at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem wondered, after being struck with how little he knew about the people whose scans and medical issues he was charged with making sense of.
That realization led Turner to devise and run a series of controlled experiments, in which photographic portraits accompanied medical scans that were sent to radiologists. Three hundred patients agreed to participate, allowing their pictures to be taken and attached to their files. The results were surprising. Radiologists—who often view CT scans from remote locations and have little physician-patient contact—wrote more detailed reports for scans accompanied by portrait photographs, and also tended to include more recommendations and incidental findings.
As you can see from the exuberant photo above, we’ve been getting some great visitor contributions to our most recent click! photography changes everything call for entry in honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day.
We just published the first visitor contribution by Lisa Savage (pictured above) to click! In her piece, Lisa, a coordinator for the organization CODEPINK, explores how photography has become a tool for her as a political protester.
Though you are welcome to contribute your story and photo to click! any time, this call for entry examining how photography shapes and reflects women’s lives and accomplishments ends on April 30th. So, we invite you to submit your own story and photo by the end of this month—maybe you’ll be our next featured click! contributor!