The development of the tool was done by creating a web page using a Wikimedia model known as wiki. The resource is hosted by the GEH website at http://www.eastmanhouse.org/wiki (accessed 07/20/2007), and it is password protected. The wiki model is a free application for collaborative gathering of information by multiple users. It is one of the most visible and well-known models of what is becoming known as web 2.0--the future of the internet where users generate content into an application that manages information. It is a new model for describing objects in specific contexts, as opposed to the more static models of catalogues. Examples of web 2.0 type of applications are the websites YouTube and Flickr, two platforms for uploading videos and images on the internet that include several features for linking and attributing key words to information; another example is the rating system used by the online auction website Ebay that serves to associate comments and data with sellers and buyers with the intent of creating a self regulating system based on trust and user community generated information. The appeal of the wiki model is that it can provide immediate results, allowing identification of needs and constraints of the resource; it makes it possible to define an initial structure and test it on multiple users; it allows for the creation and demonstration of a prototype of the collaborative knowledge base that can now be submitted for peer review and discussion; all in a short period of time. A key element to developing new tools is to quickly present the idea and advertise it; otherwise someone else may start developing a similar idea. That way the momentum will be lost and the weight of the project reduced as experts start investing their skills and knowledge in other resources. For instance, many people have contributed to Wikipedia so when the online encyclopedia Citizendium began, using real names and aiming to “correct” the flaws of Wikipedia, it had little success. The development of a prototype using the wiki model made it possible to have a clear example of what the photograph conservation and connoisseurship resource is, gather a community of contributors and build upon the developed work.
Collaborative knowledge bases represent great potential for a new approach in cataloguing photograph collections. They allow describing the object within different contexts and linking information in a most flexible manner. The traditional cataloguing method uses a rigid structure. This is time consuming and often limited in its retrieval capabilities. Many museums in the United States have adopted the database The Museum System© (TMS). New demands by users to have internet access to collections have revealed the limitations of TMS’s rigid structure. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts is currently one of the most advanced institutions in extracting data from TMS directly to their website. GEH has been cataloguing its collections in TMS. The constraints of this database make it an unsatisfactory surrogate for access to the originals. One of these limitations is the lack of a standard for the digital reproduction of the objects, one that depicts the entire object, recto and verso, using an appropriate documentation reference scale, in a homogenously calibrated environment. It is therefore safe to conclude that the model currently followed will not result in a comprehensive connoisseurship tool that responds to scholars' demands. Collaborative knowledge bases allow not only greater flexibility in structure, but also for the maintenance of input from its users. The community that contributes shapes the structure to its needs. The constant update and evolution of the software application and features ensures the updating and improvement of the user tools without implying a reformatting or loss of data previously entered.
One of the goals of the resource is to help establish protocols for addressing the photograph with the intent of characterizing it. The questions posed are: How to look? What to look for? What are the levels of looking and what do they tell us? What tools should be used to assist in the observation? When observing a body of work with the intent of characterizing a particular photographer’s work, one faces the challenge of decoding several characteristics and understanding which are meaningful and which are not. An example that illustrates this is the survey of the GEH Lewis Hine non-accessioned group described in this resource. A group of 872 prints were observed with the intent of characterization. The methodology used was suggested by Paul Messier, who has observed Hine materials extensively. As described by Grant Romer in the article “Addressing the Photograph”, there are three levels of observation that provide different levels of information, using different techniques. The first more basic level uses no magnification and normal, raking and specular illumination. This level provides information on paper tint, surface characteristics, condition, presence of markings (inscriptions, numbering, and stamps). A second level of observation uses intermediate analytical tools, that is to say tools that are available in most conservation labs such as a stereo microscope or UV illumination. These allow for a more accurate characterization of physical characteristics of the objects, and to help dating for example by the identification of optical brightening agents. A third level of observation uses advanced analytical tools, available only in research laboratories and schools. At this level it is possible to make identification at the elemental level or characterize origins of paper fibers. The Photograph Conservation and Connoisseurship Resource intends to compile information gathered using the first two levels of observation. That is not to say it rejects data using high-end analytical tools. The proposal of the resource is mainly to compile illustrations and data gathered by a broad professional community daily, in a resource that is simple to use and unassuming in conveying definitive truths but rather one that promotes debate.
Data entry on collaborative knowledge bases is very flexible, and allows infinite cross-linking of information. In order to maintain that flexibility, constraining the information to describing the key attributes of masterworks of photography, a structure was established.
The ARP 4th cycle fellows were invited to participate in the initial phase of entering data to the resource. This was also the phase of adapting to the wiki model and language and adapt its features to the project’s goals. Each fellow was assigned the characterization of a relevant photographer represented in the GEH collection. They were to be able to describe the photographer’s technique, photographic technique, finishing methods, and characteristic marks and condition.
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