Typical Figure, British Library

Typical Figure, British Library

Last month, the British Library released more than one million images from 17th, 18th, and 19th century books to Flickr commons. They would like the images to circulate widely–and, to this end, have invited the public to “use, remix, and repurpose” them–but they have also invited the public into a kind of collaborative preservative-historiographic relationship. It seems that the library does not know a whole lot about the images that they have scanned. From the press release: Continue reading



A fascinating account of photographer Garry Winogrand from The Awl:

When he died, of gallbladder cancer in 1984, he left behind more than half a million exposures. Most of them were unedited. Most of them he had never even looked at. Winogrand had always been prolific—but this was something else: three hundred thousand pictures (at a minimum), barely sorted, unorganized, with no indication of why or when they were taken. By most counts their quality didn’t keep up with their quantity. Thousands were botched, “plagued with technical failures—optical, chemical, and physical flaws—in one hundred permutations.” The ones that weren’t tended to be either banal or badly composed, but there were so many of them it was hard to get a read on the whole.

The archive Winogrand left behind was an ocean—trackless, infinite, and unsurveyable—and few had the patience to enter into it. Contemplating its immensity, the curator Alex Sweetman imagined a photographic blob, oozing out of its drawers until it blocked traffic on the entire East Side. Leo Rubinfien, the curator of a new retrospective predicated on the idea that the late work wasn’t all bad, admits to a severe drop off in quality. And even John Szarkowski, Winogrand’s close friend and chief patron, while editing the late work for a posthumous exhibit, found himself feeling first impatient, then angry, and finally convinced that he was the butt of a cruel joke, “designed by the photographer to humiliate him.”

The whole thing is worth reading. I am left wondering: what’s the difference between Winogrand’s work–a seeming anomaly in the era of analog photography–and the “trackless, infinite, and unsurveyable” digital archives we are (almost) all in the process of constructing?


Sent from someone’s iPhone (30 May 2011)

A couple of days ago, my colleague Paul Flaig brought a fascinating trend to my attention.  In the wake of Hugo and The Artist, a wave of new media applications have emerged that transform (ho-hum) full color and sound video into hi-def mimics of the silent era.   See here, here, and here.  The “Silent Film Director” app reached a startling 300,000 uploads in April of this year.  As Paul pointed out, the reviews and comments on these applications are perhaps strangest of all (esp. for those who have spent years trying to get students excited about silent cinema).  Just one example here.  “The effects are really cool.  You have black and white…”