In the month of June, there is an initiative that involves museums, Wikipedia, several internet providers and creative commons NL among other participants. The initiative proposes photo-making in museums, with the goal of making these photos avaialble on Wiki platforms. This photo is part of the contest pool, taken by Pachango in the Tropenmuseum.
Given the use of Flickr as a conduit for photographic material and participation of the Tropenmuseum, this is a fascinating intersection of two our fieldsites! The intended pipeline from museum to Wiki repository goes via Flickr (which is a site that has its own practices and users), and a lot of work goes into shaping this path. For example, there are specific lists of objects to be photographed. There are rules about ways of photographing the objects (with/out flash of tripod, etc). There are privileged moments for photographers to visit some of the museums. And there are strict instructions about tags and uploading in Flickr.
This event is an amazing opportunity to observe how image-making practices are configured: who provides the material, who can photograph it and how, what are legitimate uses of the photographs, how is material to travel from museum to web (and back?), what are considered good images, how is image-making to be documented, what is the relationship between museums and (lay)photographers, what roles are assigned or adopted by internet providers and corporate players in relation to a ‘commons’ ideology, etc, etc.
The project is ongoing and every time I look at the initiative’s website, there are new developments and debates on the discussion pages of the Flickr group dedicated to Wiki loves art/NL. It’s quite fascinating to see how different participating museums and photographers are negotiating the various ‘values’ that are involved in this project.
The way museums implement the ‘game’ varies greatly, as do the motivations and practices of photographers. For example, in the accompanying discussion on Flickr, one participants raised two very interesting points: first, that given the rules of engagement, this would result in “straightforward photos” of art objects, not in photos that were art objects and second, querying the limitation to a specified list of objects. The first point makes me think that there is something about the rules that seems to push photographers towards a ‘documentary’ or ‘realist’ (that word again) style of photography that feels limiting to some participants. The second teases out an important goal of the project, which one of the organisers of the contest explains in response: the goal is to get photos of the museums’ collections onto Wikipedia. Interestingly, this does not seem to be obvious to some photographers who see photo-making as the ‘end’ or goal of their practice, and consider getting objects in museums photographed and into Wikipedia as secondary.
The participation of museums is also diverse. The Tropenmuseum provides a list of object that can be photographed, a free ticket for entry, and the additional rule that photographers are not allowed to use a tripod or flash. Other museums have set up special photographic sessions, in which tripods and flash can be used. The Van Abbemuseum is very proactive and responds to queries by a photographer in the Flickr discussion, offering objects and conditions that respond to a particular style of photography this person wishes to undertake.
The diversity of configurations of users, owners and makers of images in this process is intriguing and, I think, telling of the current state of uncertainty with regards to the cultural meaning of digital technologies, open repositories and produsage for museums.