Recataloguing New Topographics

I made this project—my first DH project—in the Fall of 2014 for “The Art of Industry,” a course at the University of Rochester taught by Peter Christensen. Entitled “Recataloguing New Topographics,” the project was a digital component of my research paper about the 1975 exhibition now considered a turning point in the history of landscape photography.

In his catalogue essay, curator William Jenkins touts his selected photographers as demonstrating a “styleless style,” which the limited selection of images—only three or four per artist despite a much larger checklist—supports. How might a different selection of images tell a different story about this photographic tendency while still equally representing the exhibition? Using consumer photobook-making software, students construct their own versions of the catalogue, destabilizing assumptions about the transparency of documents to history.



Catalogues and Photo Books

In addition, this project invites students to look critically at a contemporary trend in consumer technology, being the creation of photo books. As an artistic format, the photo book blossomed—alongside New Topographics—in the 1970s.

Installation view from the 1975 exhibition

Technology

This project uses the BookWright software by Blurb, one of the most popular self-publishing and marketing platforms.


 

Digital Art History Workshops

In the summer of 2017, I participated in two selective workshops about Digital Art History. The first, “The Art Historical Image in the Digital Age,” was held at the American Academy in Rome, and the second, “The Iconic Turn: Image-Driven Digital Art History,” was part of a larger series of DH workshops sponsored by the European Summer University at the University of Leipzig. Both of these workshops exceeded my expectations in ways I could not have imagined. Most broadly, the opportunities to work with art historians concentrating in a wide array of historical eras (Rome) and with art historians from across the globe (Leipzig) gave me a much wider perspective on my DH work and its potential for expansion. In different ways, both workshops encouraged my thinking about photography in relation to the reproduction of images, whether in textbooks or photobooks, as a way to expand the temporally localized interests in my dissertation (the American 1970s) to a much broader range of subjects.


I was also honored by the opportunity to present my project on Uncommon Places to the entire ESU community, through which I received valuable feedback from an international perspective.

Photo by @jeremydouglass

Histories of Photography

This project grew out of a personal desire for a place of organization, something for which I have found Omeka to be rather useful. As a docent for the History of Photography galleries at the George Eastman Museum,
I receive PDFs with small images and wall text for each exhibition, which changes every few months. In preparing for my tours, however, I wanted a way to view images more in-depth that would more closely approximate the opportunities afforded in the gallery itself. Omeka offered a platform for organizing object metadata and recording my evolving thoughts on each work, especially as they were shaped by interactions with museum visitors.



Matters of Scale
Expanding out from this original function, I next began to explore ways that a web interface could enhance visitors’ understandings of the exhibitions, especially once their physical instantiations were replaced. After all, the purpose of these museum exhibitions is not simply to show off images, but to show off objects, made with different photographic processes, cameras, and materials. From this perspective, a grid or even list of equal-size thumbnails works against the idea behind the exhibitions, which is to enrich the narrative of photography’s history with an understanding of its many technological transformations. For example, the large size of certain USGS survey photographs points to practice of contact-printing glass plate negatives, while the ability to print large images in the late 20th century signals the improvement of digital printing. In the gallery, these insights are important aspects of the history as it is imparted to viewers, but the standardized scale of the typical online archive reduces if not entirely obliterates their visual impact.

Therefore, as I developed the project, I began exploring alternative modes of presentation. The current solution is rather simple: a horizontally-scrolling window in which photographs are displayed to scale. The sideways scroll and center orientation abstractly mimics the layout of the exhibition space, while the addition of a lightbox points to the experience of stepping close to a photograph and switching from exhibition view to the single object and ultimately its finest details. As a result of this project, scale has become an incredibly important element of my interest in digital technology’s potential for displaying photographic collections. Displaying objects in an exhibition at a comparative standardized scale is a fairly simple premise that nonetheless has a significant impact on how viewers understand the objects they are viewing, and I intend to pursue this issue in my future work.

Technology

This project originated as a test case for Omeka wherein I could explore the platform’s possibilities. Working with the Eastman Museum’s collection allowed me to skip right to questions about user experience, since the difficult labor of gathering metadata and creating high-quality images was already done. That being said, I quickly found that Omeka did not work quite how I imagined it to, particularly with regard to the popular Exhibit Builder plug-in. In future iterations of this type of project, I plan to explore alternative collection management systems.

For copyright reasons, this prototype site is currently password-protected. If you would like to view it, please contact me at tracy.stuber [at] gmail.com.

polipost

polipost is a concept app that addresses the convergence of social media and political expression. Building on the premise of apps that will send physical postcards from uploaded digital images, this app encourages users to communicate visually and textually with their elected representatives about issues that matter to them. For a small fee, users can send a customized postcard to a representative of their choice that bears an image of their own making. Seeking to redirect the energies behind common practices on Facebook and Instagram, polipost is also intended to pose further inquiry into how images communicate, personally and politically.

Technology

This prototype was made using Marvel.


Pictures of Uncommon Places

Stephen Shore, Civic Center from Amarillo—Tall in Texas, lithograph, 1971
In 1971, the photographer Stephen Shore made a series of ten postcards of landmarks in Amarillo, Texas. Some locales were expected yet anonymous, like the geometrically structured Civic Counter. Others, like the Double Dip ice cream parlor at 1323 South Polk, were more idiosyncratic. When Shore had the series in an edition of 5,600, he omitted some important information: the location of these landmarks in Amarillo. Thus anonymized, the postcards could have been sent from Anytown, USA. Indeed, they probably were: on a 1973 cross-country road trip, during which he began his series Uncommon Places (1973—1982), he brought the postcards along and surreptitiously slipped them into the card racks of local stores. Thus disguised among other images of similarly generic architecture and consistently blue skies, these images of Amarillo insinuated themselves into the tourist imaginaries of small towns across the country.
Stephen Shore, Main Street, Gull Lake, Saskatchewan, 1973
Start page

Time and Space

Inspired by postcards, this project takes Shore’s Uncommon Places as an opportunity to explore how photographs—like these postcards—move, circulate, and affect our vision of place. His original 1982 publication of the series included 49 photographs made over many years and many trips. Rather than mapping the book’s impractically—even impossibly—peripatetic route, the first part of this project will map the distribution of each photograph’s place to new sites of residence. In addition, when possible, the maps will include sites of each photograph’s exhibition, demonstrating the distribution within Shore’s selection of images, already themselves then from a much larger group, as representatives of his work. Drawing on the geometric quality of Shore’s large-format compositions, this project asks how photography’s reproducibility and the existence of many distinct prints of the same negative disrupt normative expectations of geographical space.

Image location and scale

 

Comparing image colors (with menu)

 

Pictures & Prints

The second part of the project takes the geographical distance between photographs of the same place as a jumping off point for thinking about photography’s mutability. While multiple institutions may own the same photograph, they may vary in printed size and condition, to name some examples. The instability of 1970s chromogenic dyes also makes for pronounced variations in color due to fading over time. Digitized versions of these photographs available on museum websites make these variations at once more apparent and more opaque. Differences in digital image size, color modes, and scanning technologies accentuate the phenomenon of variation while adding their own versions, muddying the ability to know much at all about the physical print despite the claims of digital archives to tell us just that.

The user is given the opportunity to explore these issues through an interactive interface where images can be toggled between what we might think of “thumbnail” and “full size” images, generically put, as well as between prints. That some images can be enlarged much more than others—due to differences in scanned resolution–points again to the opaque inconsistencies marring the assumed transparency of the digital archive. Where possible, I hope to include as such metadata as possible about the photo objects as well as the digital images.

Installation view from Shore’s 2017 MoMA retrospective

At Shore’s 2017 retrospective at MoMA, I was pleased to find this display of photographs that gives aesthetic support to my independently-derived interface.

Technology

This project combines HTML/CSS, Neatline (based in an Omeka platform), and a collage of Javascript implemented with the use of tutorials.
Scripts include: