TURBO BOOST YOUR IMAGE SEARCHES

All things change, especially in the fast-moving world world of photo licensing. For some time, now, industry professionals have noted that PACA (Picture Archive Council of America) has evolved into the DMLA (Digital Media Licensing Association); but do they also know that PACA’s fantastic mega metasearch engine of licensable content has been updated into DMLASearch?

Simply put, DMLASearch is the kind of tool that puts a spring in your step. As a tool, it radically reduces the time spent searching for images. Aided by a predictive text menu and built-in disambiguation of homographs and capitonyms, researchers, photo buyers, creatives and licensers can now search dozens of still and motion archives in seconds.

So what’s the drawback? Well, there isn’t any. DMLASearch is free to use. That’s right. If you want to search a horde of agencies for exactly that right image, just dive into a photographic gene pool representing over 171 million images (and growing): pooled form agencies ranging from Shestock to Goodsalt, eStock Photo to Trevillion Images, Media Bakery to Venus Stock.

Christopher Bain, the Photography Director of Sterling Publishing Group, perhaps puts it most succinctly:

“If you use Google to search for everything else in your on-line life, you really should be using DMLAsearch to seek out the best images on earth. It continually reminds you of dozens of sources that might have the image you seek, helping you keep out of the rut of using the same old source day after day. The blindingly fast two-column search result shows two views, the raw count per agency and the results as a percentage of an agency’s collection. This helps you see who has the true depth in the subject matter you are looking for. I love it!”

The navigation protocols of DMLASearch don’t reinvent the wheel: buyers simply submit a keyword or term in the search box to locate the best choice of image to meet the need. And that’s about it for the hard stuff… The easy stuff is being rewarded – instantly – with a dizzying array of thumbnails to start scrolling through. Oh, and if you want video footage: there’s a separate “media type selecter” for that too!

DMLASearch first returns two columns of results. On the left is a list of agency libraries ranked in descending order for the total number of images found in each. On the right. a column of libraries is ranked by the relative percentage of images in relation to the total collection; thereby highlighting those archives that offer specialty content in a relevant subject (you may find that agencies highest ranked by relative percentage tend to specialize in that subject). The relative ranking helps buyers zero in on those collections that can yield surprising depth and selection on a particular subject while also maintain clear line of sight to those collections which offer the greatest breadth on the same topic. Contributing agencies do not pay to be included in index. It is a benefit of DMLA general membership.

The images are not free uses; but researchers can also take comfort that the  images are available for licensing. Once you’ve found the material that you require, you negotiate the transaction directly with the agency. You will find that licensing options vary by agency. The DMLA does not profit from that transaction.

 

To visit the DMLA search engine, visit:

http://www.dmlasearch.com/cgi-bin/WebObjects/DMLAsearch

Scopio Takes On Authentic Content Access

Guest post by Jain Lemos

Stop photo searching like the century and get in sync!

@yourcontentfarm_twitter

@yourcontentfarm_twitter

There’s tons of new technology popping up around the ability for buyers and creators to record transactions, track and share content, and basically get down to the business of image curation and usage. Scopio has jumped into the fray as another go-between, where you give them permission to access your social accounts so you can request images directly from the plethora of user-generated visuals.

As background, Columbia University innovators Christina Hawatmeh and Manoj Pooleery put up a post for an interaction designer at Parson’s so they could visualize big data on image sharing from Twitter, based on real time hashtag events through Twitter’s API. “We specifically were running an experiment on capturing image content from the Arab Spring,” explains Hawatmeh. That led to them being accepted to Columbia’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program, a springboard leading to the Scopio enterprise.

Like those before them, they saw a gap between searching for socially-shared images and getting permission to use them. Access, directly from the source, they saw as a big data problem. “We had dreams of how we could bring these macro speed-of-lightning events to be visualized and communicated in a simple and impactful way, through images.”

Scop.io stands for “Scope it Out” and therein lies the key to using their platform. Buyers need to shed their old stock search terms and employ social’s ubiquitous hashtag language. Using a search for Puppies and Dogs, here are some example hashtags: #dogsofinstagram #doglove #campingwithdogs #mypuppy #nationalpuppyday. While traditional keywords will work (each Scopio search allows for seven hashtags and five keywords), keeping up with hashtag vernacular and trends are going to bring you the best results.

Some observers claim there are up to 4 billion photos and videos posted on social media every single day. Figuring that a good portion of those are what Hawatmeh terms, “commercializable”, she projects a growth rate of 20 to 30 percent. “We have gone through and manually coded over 600,000 images by hand,” she says, plus their database holds more than 40 million images stored from Instagram and Twitter, also manually coded by Scopio.

Because both Instagram and Twitter have restrictions on interactions, Scopio can’t broker sales between buyer and seller. What they can do is display the content to you through a dashboard on their site. Clients pay for curation and licensing via a subscription. When an image is used, Scopio offers compensation for the license.

Scopio spent nearly three years building out their software and they are still improving their learning methods to, “dig through the garbage of social media,” Hawatmeh says. “We discover gems in the millions of images posted to social media and give you a way to license them for your own use,” she promises.

While the two founders are not photo people, their CCO, Nour Chamoun, is a photographer and design and technology grad from Parsons. They engaged industry advisors to learn about the image buying space including Barbara Roberts (formerly FPG), attorney Nancy Wolff, and a Thomson Reuters consultant. Scopio also joined DMLA, which Hawatmeh says has been helpful.

With yearly microstock revenue around $2.8 billion, and a global spend on social marketing tools between $2-5 billion, Scopio sees themselves in-between those markets. They’ve already received recognition from several online tech buzz sites including The New York Observer and Founders Grid and appear ready to take on the challenge. Right now, Scopio offers a free trial as part of their launch, so give it a whirl.

Example of how an image is used from Scop.io

Example of how an image is used from Scop.io

JainLemos-600x600Jain Lemos has been deeply involved in photography publishing and licensing for more than twenty years and shares her informed perspective about our visual industry on multiple platforms including her website, jainlemos.com.
 

Mobile Photography Blurs the Line

Our correspondent from across the pond, Julian Jackson, has been thinking about mobile phone photography. Serendipitous in view of the upcoming Panel session on all things Social Media at Visual Connections Chicago!

GUNDAM/Shutterstock

(c)GUNDAM/Shutterstock

Mobile photography has taken off. This year Shutterstock has had a 40% increase in submissions of images taken with phones or tablets. iPhonography – for want of a better word – has been around for a while, but as cameras on devices got better it has become a part of the photographic industry. Probably the impetus came from two areas – instant images from phones for the news, and the advertising industry’s latching on to the connotations of immediacy and “reality” which came from the less-polished quality of phone images.

Things have moved on. Many “proper” photographers have ditched their DSLRs in favour of a phone. Alan Capel, Head of Content at Alamy saw “A couple of years ago we decided we’d be made if we didn’t take advantage of the fantastic pictures that had been taken on phones – cool creative work and interesting reportage where someone was at the right place at the right time.” Alamy created their Stockimo App two years ago to facilitate this – users can upload their images directly to Alamy from their phone which makes it a lot easier – previously the shots would have to be transferred to a computer to be uploaded.

 © Teresa Williams / Stockimo / Alamy Stock Photo

© Teresa Williams / Stockimo / Alamy Stock Photo

The content is not niche. Keren Sachs, Director of Content at Shutterstock says that the images she is seeing now are across the board from all different types of images. Those are not just shot on Apple products but all kinds of mobile platform. Shutterstock launched their Android App in December 2013, which made it very easy for mobile photographers to keyword and upload their content from their mobile phone. Keren says, “Now the options are open for anyone who owns a phone to become a photographer. We are seeing more people adding their content to our site. We take any images that pass our quality tests. Advertisers are using these images more and more because they like the look and feel. We don’t categorize the imagery as mobile or not mobile because the lines are so blurred.”

© graham jepson / Stockimo / Alamy Stock Photo

© graham jepson / Stockimo / Alamy Stock Photo

The iPhone photography world would probably not have taken off so quickly without Instagram. Since its launch in 2010 the “Twitter for Photos”, has grown 400 million active monthly users. It pioneered easy uploading for photos, and is a social market leader with celebrities such as Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez posting their images on the site. As magazines decline, the need for high res images has been overtaken by the immediacy of smaller, more adaptable content.

Alamy’s Stockimo images are on the site alongside conventional camera images. About 50% of submitted images are rejected for various reasons, usually technical flaws. Alan Capel says that they are selling very well, and not at reduced prices. Buyers don’t think they are an inferior product, and the smaller file sizes are not a handicap for the sort of media these images are used for.

Putting “stockimo” in the Alamy search engine will pull up purely mobile content.

© MARKSY / Stockimo / Alamy Stock Photo

© MARKSY / Stockimo / Alamy Stock Photo

Other agencies have taken a different approach, for example Arcangel’s Smart Collection is carefully curated and edited mobile imagery, which has a deliberately arty feel, aiming at a bohemian audience.

The exponential growth of the sector, and its sales, shows that there is definitely a future for mobile imagery. Keren Sachs says, “It is changing the way people are producing content and allowing more people to become photographers. The content has to be very strong to stand out in a market like that.”

(c)Nejron Photo/ Shutterstock

(c)Nejron Photo/ Shutterstock

www.alamy.com

www.shutterstock.com

juliancoffeshopcuJulian Jackson is a writer with extensive experience of picture research, whose main interests include photography and the environment. His portfolio is here: https://julianj.journoportfolio.com/ He also runs a Picture Research by Distance Learning Course www.picture-research-courses.co.uk. Linked-in profile.

 

The Half-life of Censorship

With retrospectives at both the Getty and  LACMA and a new HBO doc about his life and work, Mapplethorpe sparked this editorial from writer/curator Simon Herbert:

Given the current tone of political discourse in an election year, it’s tempting to think that we’ve hit new lows in civility; yet rewind to 1989, on the floor of Congress, where NC Senator Jesse Helms was striding up and down the floor, trying to make political hay out of banning federal funds to the National Endowment for the Arts. Back then, the “culture wars” between right and left were beginning to metastasize for the first time; and Helms, in his inflated piety, had decided to focus on whether public money should not be directed to the funding of “obscene” artworks. At a time when HIV funding was being denied; and 28 years before the White House (as of this month) installed a gender-neutral restroom in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue; it’s hard to reimagine the level of vilification that alternate sexual orientations aroused at the time (or, unfortunately, maybe not…). Helms chose one particular artistic icon to funnel his outrage through…

… the work of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

Mapplethorpe is currently the focus of both a HBO documentary ”Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures”; and two-tier simultaneous retrospective exhibition: “Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium,” at the Getty Center, Los Angeles (March 15-July 31); and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) (March 15-July 31).

We all know Mapplethorpe’s photographic works so well, that there’s little need to describe them in this article: they live in the public imagination in a way that Helms would despise, were he (or Mapplethorpe) still alive today. Especially since Helms’s symbolic gesture, on the floor of Congress, actually contributed to Mapplethorpe‘s “infamy”: his action was to, literally, rip up a Mapplethorpe photograph: one single print that, presumably in Helms’s mind, stood testament to all of the other bullwhips, rectums, cocks and polyester suits that hovered out there as part of a society where gender and sexual behaviors were being challenged.

Let’s think about that for a minute: a US Congressman used vandalism and destruction to make a point about his own personal preferences, and did so in front of a group of men and women who are supposed to be the best and brightest minds of our land: the people who ‘manage’ us; who legislate for us; who take our hopes and fears and carve them into either trickle down economics, or FEMA aid, or tax cuts…

… and the best that Helms could do that day was a violent gesture not far distant from Nazi book burning.

Of course, it was always meant as a snake oil gesture – an act of political circus – on Helms’s part; but what is truly interesting about the causality of Mapplethorpe’s work is that, 27 years later, the idea of destroying a single print is even more futile. Our society has changed, mainstream sexuality has changed; and the valences between what was once taboo and is now ‘acceptable’ has mutated way beyond the narrow strictures of Helm’s rigidity. His gesture was futile then, but in the explosion of digital information, and access, since then, Helms seems, in the prism of history, even more pathetic; trying to hold the pictorial waves at bay, even as they lap up around his feet in a rising tide of pixels. History, and technology, and art, and social change, have rendered Helms an irrelevance: a museum curio, interesting only for the futility and savagery of his performance art.

The great (and delightful) irony is that, long after Helms has retreated to a Wikipedia footnote, the legacy of Mapplethorpe has only increased in currency; both cultural and monetary (a print of “Man in a Polyester Suit” recently sold for nearly a half a million dollars at Sotheby’s last year). The museums that Helms and his rabid brethren were trying to shut down, still have open doors; citizens of all stripes pass through them in their millions every year; consuming new and old art; and many of these institutions will doubtless also – like the White House –be installing gender-neutral restrooms.

Museum visitors will be funneled through the exit, to the inevitable gift shop where postcards of Mapplethorpe’s photographs sit in revolving stands. His work will be forever cemented, centuries from now, in “high art” culture; next to the the Warhols and the Koons and the Harings; all inheritors of the legacies of the Van Goghs and the Monets.

Now that’s a most excellent way to repudiate tyranny.

 

For more information on the HBO documentary, and the Getty Center/LACMA exhibition:

http://www.hbo.com/documentaries/mapplethorpe-look-at-the-pictures

http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/mapplethorpe/

http://www.lacma.org/mapplethorpe#about

Simon Herbert is a curator and writer. In 1991, he curated “Burning the Flag?” a survey show of the work of three of the (so-called, and mislabeled) infamous “NEA Four” performance artists (Tim Miller, Holly Hunter and Karen Finley), who had their funding revoked by Congress in the culture wars at the beginning of the 90s.

 

 

Photocase: The Anti-Stock Image Undertaking

Fifteen years in the running and still inspiring buyers to license images without corniness.

Guest post by Jain Lemos

daaarta/photocase.com

daaarta/photocase.com

Photocase launched from Germany in 2001 as a creative stock photography marketplace with a determination to deliver the anti-stock image. All their photos are hand-picked, meaning you won’t slog through millions of repetitive or inferior quality images. The founders are all graphic designers who used to work for the same company. “We were constantly, like all other designers, on the hunt for good photos,” says Frank Erler, Photocase’s customer service manager. “But everything out there was either expensive or not so great looking,” he adds.

At first, they came up with the idea to build their own platform so they could share their own photos. Once they allowed other contributors to participate, growth was fast and furious. Their business model changed from a free platform—set up by image buyers who were also amateur photographers—to a robust agency offering photo downloads and modern user features. Through the transition, they remained vigilant about offering what they see as true alternative visuals to traditional stock photos.

In general, pricing is set up in the form of credits. A standard size photo—3600 x 2400 at 300 dpi—will cost 6 credits (about $16) under the basic license ($2.67 per credit). Credits can be purchased for as low as $1.35 each when buying in bulk and special offers are teased periodically. They offer three license options: basic, extended and merchandising. These will cover the most common applications. Options include an “omit copyright” license and one allowing unlimited print production runs.

Contributing photographers earn up to 60 percent, with no strings attached. Photocase has strict size guidelines which have been raised from their original specs. Images must be at least 2500 pixels either long or wide. “We raised this from the old minimum resolution because most consumer cameras (and cell phones) are capable of producing much higher resolution photos,” they explain.

When it comes to the criteria for the style of photos accepted by the agency, Photocase says there are some images they will never accept, “no matter how cool they are, ” including “no fancy Photoshop work or insane retouching.” The collection has grown to around 500,000, which may sound small in comparison with other agencies. They insist that’s because they have always preferred quality over quantity, only accepting 10 percent of the photos submitted.

Patrick Lienin/photocase.com

Patrick Lienin/photocase.com

When asked how Photocase describes the undesirable “typical” stock photo, Eler says it depends. “It’s mostly photos that show a situation in a cliché kind of way: woman with a headset, handshakes, people with thumbs up… you get the idea.” He goes on to explain that there is nothing wrong with a photo showing a woman wearing a headset, but that image is often presented so cheesy it has nothing to do with reality. How true.

The tech team has spent considerable time on expanding their search functions. The most fun is their color search capability which allows users to click on a checkerboard pattern to brings up a spectrum. Clicking on any point in the spectrum lets users choose a general color shade first. Then, you are led to an array of colors in a box with adjustable crosshairs to narrow down the exact tone you are looking for.

suze/photocase.com

suze/photocase.com

Something different to explore are their Public Lightboxes which feature collections of thematically linked photos created by users. Their #photocasetakeover event provides account keys to their Instagram feed for three days so one photographer is allowed to share their photos with Photocase’s community and followers. Creative marketing and participation ideas are ongoing, such as their Super Still Life Challenge, where their community invites photographers to make photos on a special topic or idea, often allowing buyers to vote for a winner.

Overall, their site is friendly and easy to use. To register you only need to submit a name and email address. It’s easier than ever to get inspired and license photos. They also update functionality often, making sure the user experience is superior. Look for them to update their terms of use to include their images on social media platforms.

JainLemos-600x600Jain Lemos is the Director of Content and Collections for Come Alive Images. She has been deeply involved in photography publishing and licensing for more than twenty years and shares her informed perspective about our visual industry on multiple platforms including her website, jainlemos.com.

Visual Connections Coming to Chicago!

We are prepping, planning and scheduling for Visual Connections in Chicago on Cinco de Mayo!

Join us at the lovely Ivy Room for a day of networking, meeting new friends and reconnecting with old ones. Evocative sessions covering Social Media, the marriage of Stills/Motion on sets, licensing models and trends in stock are scheduled throughout the day, allowing ample time to visit the Exhibitors from around the globe who gather to showcase the work of some of the top image makers/collections today.

Take a look at what the New York show was like to get an glimpse of what Visual Connections offer:

Visual Connections New York 2015 from Visual Connections on Vimeo.

More here, including registration(free!): http://www.visualconnections.com/CH2016/index.php

 

Clickbait for You!

Every now and then, we take a look around the photo world on the web and round up news worthy of a visit with your morning coffee:

  • Former Travel Photo Library boss Philip Enticknap has launched a new website to license his own Rights Managed images. Amongst the copious travel images, there is an extensive Malta collection (used by Air Malta) and there are also gardens & flower images.
  • Your opinion counts! New survey for designers, graphic artists, image creators to study the efficacy of the DMCA Takedown Notice procedure. The US Copyright Office is working to conduct a survey of image rights holders and licensing professionals to gather information on recent experiences of copyright infringement. More info here: http://blog.digitalmedialicensing.org/?p=3238
  • On the West Coast? LACMA and the Getty team up for “Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium” What hasn’t been said or observed about one of the most enduring and iconic photographers of the last century? Well how about the fact that in the last quarter century, Mapplethorpe’s legacy has gone from piñata for the right wing censors who forced the withdrawal of his National Endowment for the Arts grant, to being rehabilitated by two prestigious museums have teamed up for a large, extravagant exhibition to explore the genesis and maturity of Mapplethorpe’s 1970s and ’80s photographs.

Ordinary Pictures

Anne Collier, Stock Photography (Gestures), 2013 C-print 50 3/4 x 61 3/4 x 1 3/4 in. framed Courtesy the artist; Anton Kern Gallery, New York; Marc Foxx Gallery, Los Angeles; Corvi-Mora, London; and the Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd., Glasgow

Anne Collier, Stock Photography (Gestures), 2013
C-print
50 3/4 x 61 3/4 x 1 3/4 in. framed
Courtesy the artist; Anton Kern Gallery, New York; Marc Foxx Gallery, Los Angeles; Corvi-Mora, London; and the Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd., Glasgow

It could be argued that, ever since Andy Warhol intrigued and scandalized (yes: scandalized, at the time) art audiences in the 60s with the conceit of pop culture regurgitations of mass market products (or, if one is to be entirely precise, when Marcel Duchamp’s ‘found’ urinal named “R.Mutt” outraged the Society of Independent Artists in 1917), that the entire foundation of an artist’s worth, in subsequent decades, has been dealing with the idea of authorship.

However, in a digital world of retweeting, and video homage, and postmodern ideas of personal or group authorship, maybe nobody even cares that much anymore? After all, after a thousand, thousand, museum exhibitions of appropriated imagery, wherein artists have so cheekily challenged audiences with provocations of “authenticity” isn’t it a bit of an old chestnut to even consider “how” artists” use appropriated imagery; rather than that much more interesting question… “why”?

Seen in this context, Ordinary Pictures is a ground-breaking exhibition organized by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis: that takes that old chestnut of appropriated imagery, and, simply, files it under “m-eh”– and thereafter proceeds to survey a range of conceptual picture-based practices since the 1960s through the lens of the stock photograph and other forms of industrial image production; aiming to ask much more interesting aesthetic and conceptual question of what we might see – and judge – in front of our eyes.

Stock imagery might seem like the ‘poor cousin’ of artistic endeavor, but, despite its apparent throwaway status, the stock image is the primary commodity of a $1 billion global industry with far-reaching effects in the marketplace and the public sphere. Ordinary Pictures effectively removes the old notions of authorship, but simultaneously centers the artist’s purview into how they manipulate stock imagery for new perspectives.

Louise Lawler, Portrait, 1982 silver-dye bleach print 19 5/8 x 19 5/8 in. Private collection Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

Louise Lawler, Portrait, 1982
silver-dye bleach print
19 5/8 x 19 5/8 in.
Private collection
Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

For instance, what is special about a picture of a parrot (yes: this is a trick question?)? Artist Louise Lawler’s “Portrait” (1982) is a stock image of a parrot against a red background, it’s head tilted toward the viewer, fixing us with its beady eye (almost a substitute for the unyielding gaze of the camera lens?); but it possesses an undeniable hypnotic power. Compelling, engaging, it makes us wonder about the current trend of regurgitated “cute pet” photos; and reclaims the core alien nature of animals without resorting to convenient anthropomorphism.

Moving beyond the still image, Filmmaker Steve McQueen (director of the Oscar-winning “12 Years a Slave”) presents “The Golden Record” (2002). Using, as its starting point, a collection of generic images sent out into the cosmic void on the Voyager probe, the original collection represents a snapshot of the ‘treaty’ that cosmologist Carl Sagan wanted to represent humanity if aliens even found the probe; whereas McQueen repurposes the material against a soundtrack of people speaking in tongues.

Steve McQueen, Once Upon A Time, 2002 35mm slides transferred to digital, sound; running time 70 minutes Collection Walker Art Center, Gift of Michelle and Bill Pohlad, and the T. B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 2014

Steve McQueen, Once Upon A Time, 2002
35mm slides transferred to digital, sound; running time 70 minutes
Collection Walker Art Center, Gift of Michelle and Bill Pohlad, and the T. B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 2014

Assuming the industry (and comedy) standard that we need three examples (or jokes) to make a point; another solo work within the extensive exhibition is “Artist Looking at Camera” (2006) by Guthrie Lonergan. A playful, if challenging, work, it shows us stock images/footage of artists looking back at us: do they challenge us with their gaze? Are we supposed to be the object? Or, because we are ‘watching’ them, are they the subject? It’s an intriguing play on authorship, and an inversion of the artist’s gaze, that goes way beyond the old tropes of creative ownership. As such, it’s part if a richly playful and compelling subversion; just one of numerous works that force the viewer to simultaneously engage, but then not care that much, about the source material. All of us, all of that which we are, can seem to be up for grabs; but then not that important either; but then very important. It’s a delicious conflict, full of mischief but profundity.

Guthrie Lonergan, Artist Looking at Camera, 2006 video (color, silent); running time 3:04 minutes Courtesy the artist

Guthrie Lonergan, Artist Looking at Camera, 2006
video (color, silent); running time 3:04 minutes
Courtesy the artist

According to the Walker Art Center: “Focusing on the industry’s distinctive modes of production, distribution, and presentation, Ordinary Pictures foregrounds the work of artists who have done much to probe, mimic, and critique this overlooked aspect of our visual environment. Spanning generations and movements—from early Pop work, avant-garde film, and Pictures Generation appropriation to more recent collage, photography, and video work—the exhibition also considers contemporary art’s own function as an ever-expanding global image economy.”

The exhibition includes works by Richard Artschwager, John Baldessari, Steven Baldi, Mary Ellen Bartley, Lucas Blalock, Tom Burr, Sarah Charlesworth, Anne Collier, Phil Collins, Michael de Courcy, Liz Deschenes, John Divola, Aleksandra Domanović, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Morgan Fisher, Hollis Frampton, Jack Goldstein, Rachel Harrison, Robert Heinecken, and Leslie Hewitt.

 

For more details: http://www.walkerart.org/calendar/2016/ordinary-pictures

Profound Archive Loss Syndrome

By guest writer Simon Herbert

Many times in our lives, we only realize the importance of something after it’s gone. That’s what our parents tend to preach to us: to value what you have in the long term; but, usually, we don’t listen, and “stuff” happens; and suddenly, when things go awry, we’re back to that simple protean realization: once something has gone… it’s pretty much gone forever.

Let’s apply this example to photographic collections– often the most transient and delicate of materials; be they of photograph originals, or photographic records of drawing/paintings, etc. In this electronic age – as our three backup Hard Drives hum away, automatically storing all those lovely pixels – we tend to be quite complacent, overall, about the survival of our archives. Sure, maybe, in a sudden moment of digital anxiety, we might worry about a rogue terrorist Electro Magnetic Pulse bomb that will wipe out all of our archives in a nanosecond. But that’s a plot point from a Hollywood flick, right? So other than that, everything will be fine….

… except when things do go wrong (have you ever heard the panic of the voice of someone on an Apple helpline whose iMac has crashed, and they have no iPhoto backup?). Yet there are other, graver, dangers to archives that are still in that pre-digital state. In short: both complacency, and bureaucratic neglect, can cause valuable non-digitized materials to disappear forever.

I have my own experience with a symptom that should be identified as “profound archive loss.” In a previous life, I was the co-director of a UK arts agency, Locus+, which produced more than 200 art installations, performances and public art events over a 20-year period; we documented every primal scream, every sculpture, every street event. For over more than three decades, we shot 35mm, and Betamax on a video player the size of three breeze blocks (how we would have loved a small digi-camera, or even an iPhone!).

Formed in the 70s, Locus+ (the organization continues to this day; though I am no longer a director, and now live in the US), its mission was to produce new projects; but also, in context, to accrue an important cross-generational body of evidence of artistic activity from various decades, for reference from future artists, scholars and the media.

All of which was a worthy goal; but as a non-profit organization, we never had the resources to actually digitize the physical photo negatives and positives that we were accruing. So when, in 2005, a fire took out about 15% of the physical archive (and necessitated the surviving negative material to be washed in various chemical baths to rescue it from smoke damage), there was a gut-rending sense that something had been lost that could never be recreated. If only the resources and infrastructure had been there…? The loss still resonates like a hammer on a bell… a plaintive death knell for an under-resourced arts company. There is nothing like sifting through the fire-warped filing cabinets, and seeing slides melted into a puddle, and also the physical damage caused by the firefighters trying to put out the fire with water, to make you realize the impermanence of documentation….

Which is why the recent allegations that the Tate – with all its massive resources – has, apparently, dumped its invaluable photographic archive in a “skip” (a dumpster) comes over as particularly sad, if not scandalous; because this is a massively influential organization that should really know better.

Reported in the Guardian newspaper: (http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/feb/23/tate-national-photographic-archive-rescued), it appears that photographs of the artworks from their collections was dumped, way back in 2008; due to an alleged internal inertia and a simple lack of bureaucratic clarity. The material was rescued by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art (a UK educational charity with links to Yale University) only after a “low-ranking” employee warned them of the action, and caused Mellon to immediately send out a van to rescue the material. If this seems like an incredible oversight by an organization that holds the national collection of British art from the Tudors onwards, the Tate denies this was the case…

Yet, also at the Victoria and Albert Museum, in 2007, an archive of black and white photographs of almost every item in the museum’s collection grouped by subject was also, apparently, dumped, due to storage space concerns.

If it seems genuinely baffling that even lauded institutions like this can fail to appreciate materials amassed by generations of curators (thereby allowing both scholars and the public to trace the lineage of creative properties), then it seems we all must take a second, and even a third, glance at our own responsibilities as proactive caretakers; in protecting creative and archival material that we feel is vital and important. We are our own museums, the curators of our own materials and lives. If we don’t do protect our memories, who else will?