The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Contemporary Photography
One of the goals of THE BIGGER PICTURE blog is to highlight stories about the ways images delivered in an online environment can describe extraordinary events or comment equally powerfully on our everyday life. Our contributors talk about collections at the Smithsonian, about images or archives that are making headlines, or about people that make, care for, and think about images on a regular basis. That’s why I wanted to mention an online, multi-media web magazine, The Soul of Athens that is published by the photojournalism students at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. The first volume of Soul of Athens launched in May 2007 and the 2010 edition appeared on June 1. Soul of Athens has been recognized internationally for its work in photojournalism, multimedia packaging, documentary and feature videos as well as overall excellence in storytelling.
The Soul of Athens explores the curiosities and universal human experiences within the Athens community, a mostly rural area of southeastern Ohio. This year there are over sixty students involved in the project. Local characters, university life, poverty, sustainable farming, fashion, religion, dance, birth, and much more are pictured by Ohio University students in the School of Visual Communication and the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. The site is exclusively designed, edited, produced, and operated by students; it is one of a kind in this aspect. The site is trying a new format this year. The 2010 Soul of Athens website will be published in a series of editions. The first phase launched at 12:01am on June 1. Every two weeks additional thematic editions will be added to the site. The editions include Thrive, Experience, Passage, Shelter, and Expression. Viewers will be able to subscribe to electronic notifications each time a new edition is added. The mission of Soul of Athens is to engage and inform audiences in a unique experience with accurate and innovative, inventive story telling that explores the curiosities and universality of the Athens community. It would seem that The Smithsonian Photography Initiative has some company in the effort to use and think about the power—the soul—of images in the digital age. We’d love to hear about other projects. Let us know!
Merry Foresta is the Former Director of the Smithsonian Photography Initiative.
- Cool new Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery slideshow of color lantern slides taken by an American Colonel on his travels through China in the 1930s.
- What happens when a university library attempts to dispose of all books that haven’t been checked out for ten years or longer.
- On the other end of the spectrum, what happens to digitized books? Google Books drama continues, with the current copyright violation lawsuit against them to be ruled upon soon.
- An archive of photos too emotionally difficult to keep . . . Artist Jason Lazarus is creating a repository of unwanted images that the public sends him “so that they may exist without being destroyed.”
- One Hour Photo—an ephemeral exhibition of photos projected for one hour which will never be seen again afterwards. [via Marvin Heiferman, SPI]
- The Smithsonian’s efforts to help preserve and conserve arts in Haiti.
- Bad news for sea monster researchers: while the British Royal Navy does in fact hold many records on sea monsters, there is unfortunately no central archive.
- How important is digital ephemera?: “scholars have uses for archives that archivists cannot anticipate.”
- Artist Christopher Baker’s live Twitter visualization and archive, Murmur Study. [via Effie Kapsalis, SPI]
- The Museum of Online Museums! Featuring, among others, the homegrown Museum of Notebooks, the National Museum of Funeral History (featuring “Fantasy Coffins”), and the graphically-delightful Book Cover Archive.
- “If you’re lucky you get old.” I love this series of photos and stories by artist Freya Najade, whose storytelling is superb.
- When food resembles art. [via C-MONSTER]
- Another photo archive for sale . . . The Chicago Sun-Times preserves its archive by selling it. [via Effie Kapsalis, SPI]
- Can scientists predict how creative you are via brain research? The NYT reports.
- Who are the most popular authors that hit NYC streetcorner book sellers’ piles? Simon Akam reports, with sophisticated Excel sheet tallying skillz, over at Intelligent Life. [via Hanging Together]
- A young Lena Horne, from the SAAM, and then the way that I remember her, from childhood.
Years ago, when the National Endowment for the Arts had a Visual Arts Program to give out individual artist grants, a week was set aside for a group of photo experts (referred to in fellowship-ese as a “peer panel”) to choose which American photographers would receive grants that year. I served several times and the experience was both exhilarating and exhausting. Day after day we sat in a darkened room—imagine a Plato’s Cave armed with slide projectors—and looked at projected images. For hours at a time two rows of six photographs appeared over and over: ka-chunk went the projectors and a set of images and then again ka-chunk and twelve more images. Though at first you might not think this would yield the best and brightest of photographers deserving of support from a federal arts program, in fact, by week’s end all of us agreed that not only had we made the correct choices, but in return we had been given a unique overview of the current field of American photography. Today, the Smithsonian American Art museum holds nearly 2,000 photographs transferred from the National Endowment Fellowship Program. Seen together they make up an interesting overview of the photographic zeitgeist of the 1970s and 1980s. (Many can be seen online here). I also remember that the selection process a few moments of image over load. Occasionally, as we reviewed the images which had made it through to the next round, I would have the jolt of seeing something I had never seen before, except of course I had. You’ll have to believe me that the visual aphasia was not a product of a quick snooze. Rather, my brain had simply seen enough and for a quick few seconds turned off the picture and re-booted. I’ve always been interested to know how and why this happens in our increasingly image-filled world, and thanks to Jeremy Wolfe and other scientists who study visual attention, we know lots more about the way our neurons fire around images. Read Wolfe’s contribution to click! to learn more.
Photo archivists are used to dealing with thousands and thousands of images, and now in a digital age millions if not billions of images. And not surprisingly archives themselves are coming up with useful and intriguing solutions for gaining intellectual access to their vast databases. The Visible Archive is a research project on the visualization of the huge museum collection currently held by the National Archives of Australia. At its core it is a search tool; in effect it is a method of creating different kinds of overall descriptions, whether they be clouds of words or visual designs based on use, of an archive and the people who use it. At the Smithsonian we’re beginning to tackle similar projects that will give us an overall impression of the millions of items contained in collections throughout the institution. And then it will be up to you to use the collections in ever more creative ways and inform the rest of us.
Merry Foresta is the Former Director of the Smithsonian Photography Initiative.
- When the Library of Congress announced recently that they would be storing the complete archives of Twitter, they caught some flak from the citizenry. So, it was interesting to read Slate writer Christopher Bream’s article on how future historians will use the Twitter archives.
- When a shoebox of photos contains all of your family’s history and hope… Read the interview with artist Seba Kurtis at Conscientious and then check out more of the artist’s photos here.
- This week marks YouTube’s 5 year anniversary, the incredible citizen video repository which generates an incredible 1 billion videos views per day.
- Signs of Use, a kind of photographic archive of familiar objects whose usefulness is in decline by artist Andy Sawyer. [via Effie Kapsalis, SPI]
- Speaking of obsolete objects, Sony has announced the death of the floppy disc and will no longer produce these discs, which first went into production in 1981.
- What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever seen in a museum? The NYT wants students to respond.
- Natalie Merchant’s new album Leave Your Sleep, explores childhood through old poems set to music. We just realized that the poem, “The Janitor’s Boy,” by Natalia Crane (a poet and literati featured in our Flickr Commons Women in Science set) is featured on the album! This portrait of Crane from our collection is discussed in the Utne Reader this month, and shows up around 3:51 in this PBS video: [via Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette]