ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The photo world will soon have a wiki dedicated to understanding the diverse materials and methods of photography. Designed for use by collectors, curators, archivists, and conservators, the wiki is under development at George Eastman House International Museum of Photography & Film, which will create and maintain the globally accessible online resource addressing photograph appreciation and identification. The creation of the wiki has been made possible via a $323,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, a federal agency.
This wiki, the first of its kind, will include documentation on cameras, print materials, chemical processes, and other imaging devices and materials from the entire history of photography. The information will be freely distributed as a searchable database, providing a dynamic and authoritative online resource.
"George Eastman House recognizes an emerging urgent need for a comprehensive method of recording the characteristics of photographs as physical objects, particularly for conservation," said Dr. Anthony Bannon, director of George Eastman House. "Features of traditional photographs that are key to their preservation are being lost in current cataloguing efforts."
In addition to serving as a repository for documentation, the wiki will facilitate a classification scheme for imaging materials to be used by collectors and historians. It will address aesthetic, scholarly, and forensic questions of detail, type, condition, age, process, and other elements of photograph appreciation and identification. For example, if researching a photograph by Lewis Hine, one could access and analyze, via this online wiki, Hine's signature and his handwritten notes on the back of the image, in addition to locating keys to identifying the types of paper he used.
"The wiki aims at describing the photograph as object, not just as image, and identifying the significant aspects of its individual character, such as how it's mounted, how it's inscribed, signed, stamped — providing a better understanding, examination, and knowledge of the photograph," said Grant Romer, director of Eastman House's Advanced Residency Program, who is overseeing the wiki project.
As an authority on care and evaluation of photographic collections, Eastman House seeks to expand its current pilot wiki project. The project was begun in 2006 by Luisa Casella, who at the time was an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellow of the Eastman House's Advanced Residency Program in Photograph Conservation and is now a Fellow at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City.
The new wiki model will take up to two years to develop. Whereas most wikis allow all users to contribute and edit content, the Eastman House wiki will be "closed," featuring ongoing contributions from noted curators, scholars, and gallerists, coordinated through an established staff at Eastman House.
"With modern information technology the ability to pool information from a variety of different sources that are relevant to the value of the photograph are infinitely better than they were in the past," Romer said. "You will be able to access the information of the actual object that exists here at Eastman House in our masterworks collection. Currently you have to travel to Eastman House, look at the back of the images and study signatures. Now we will scan the images and their elements and post them online so others can compare and contrast and do research."
In addition to this wiki, Eastman House currently is posting Podcasts about its collections, preservation projects, and exhibitions. These are accessible at eastmanhouse.org, youtube.com, and through iTunes.
George Eastman House is the world's oldest photography museum, founded in 1947 on the estate of Kodak founder George Eastman, the father of popular photography and motion picture film. The museum has unparalleled collections of 400,000 photographs from 9,000 photographers dating from the beginnings of the medium; 20,000 items of cameras technology; 28,000 motion picture titles and 3.5 million publicity stills and posters; and one of the world's most comprehensive library of photographic books, manuscripts, and journals.
In modern archives adjacent to the National Historic Landmark home and gardens, the museum offers world-leading graduate and post- graduate programs in photograph and film preservation, including the world's first and leading programs in photograph conservation.