Accepted paper:

The personal versus the institutional voice in the open photographic archive


Karin Wagner (Chalmers university of technology)

Paper short abstract:

In open, web-based photographic archives, private persons’ written comments to their photographs are often subjective and do not comply with the objective style of metadata produced by institutional staff. This paper will examine how the different types of text influence the meaning of photographs.

Paper long abstract:

Web-based photographic archives, such as Historypin, that address both cultural heritage institutions and the general public, result in heterogeneous collections of images with regard to subject, technique, and quality. The metadata supplied by private persons can differ quite substantially from the metadata normally produced by institutional staff. Private persons' written comments to their photographs tend to be far more subjective than the neutral, objective descriptions produced by museum staff. Sometimes there are marks on the photographs themselves that also contribute to making them personal documents. For instance, in an air photograph of Tahunaui beach in New Zealand, the pinner has marked an area with a circle and an arrow and written the comment: "We used to party at night at the circled area in 1965. Oh Carol, where are you now." The text evokes past events that occurred in that particular place, that the photograph in itself or a neutral description of what can be seen in the picture would be incapable of bringing forth. The hand drawn circle also sets the photograph apart from being an official document. Taking examples from Historypin, this paper will deal with the personal voice in contrast to the institutional voice in an open photographic archive. Roland Barthes' term anchorage will be used to examine how the accompanying text influences the meaning of the photographs.

panel P11
Critical Heritage and Photography