Victorian Transgression, Transgender & Attribution

The hugely popular twitter account @HistoryInPics received a nice publicity puff when Alexis Madrigal wrote about the account in The Atlantic the article was all about the great new spirit of a couple of teenagers running their business. But the article did not mention the ways in which their business was built on copyright violation, sometimes presented false histories and generally produced little of value.

A much better article, provoked by the Atlantic, was posted on the Wynken De Word blog: It’s history, not a viral feed. Here the author thoughtfully explains what is wrong with the feed. The lack of attribution and basic helpfulness to source images and also the ways in which false history is so easily pushed and becomes accepted truth.

Yes, the images do create an interest. But they do not allow any further discussion beyond “cool image”. The learning experience is snuffed out before it even has a chance to begin. Let me demonstrate:

Today this cool image was re-tweeted from the account @historyepics (an account similar to @HistoryInPics). It was entitled Victorian Transgression

victorianJudging by the content the image is old enough to be in the public domain and therefore free to re-use. But it could also be a new photo done in an old style which would mean that the right to reproduce is limited and this could very well be copyright violation. Even if the photo is free to use the lack of attribution is very unfortunate.

The picture is still the picture. It is intriguing and lovely. But what does it mean? Who are the people in the photo? Why are they wearing those clothes? Are their linked arms to be seen as intimacy and acceptance? Or maybe mutual support?

Without any knowledge of the background we can only speculate as to what the image means. Is this a photo of a Victorian transvestites? Is it just a joke (a Victorian lolcat)? Are the couple going to a fancy dress party? Or is this a transgender couple? Is it the result of a wager? Maybe it’s a theatrical image? Is it a protest against social conformity to unreasonably rigid gender roles in Victorian society? Or is it just photoshop?

If this photo is as old as it seems then it is in the public domain and can be spread without any information. But this legal right does nothing to support our learning in general and our knowledge of the specific situation.

If only we had a database containing vast knowledge… Yes, I googled Victorian Transgression and found nothing about the photo. But I did come across these other images. This time they were from Pinterest.

And this

What does it all mean? Is this a useful addition to the knowledge of gender roles in Victorian society? Or is it just shallow eyecandy for us to like and ignore? Without knowing what the picture represents I cannot use it in other settings (like lectures). I could be helping in the creation of false history.

Without attribution (even to a incomplete source) the barriers to actual knowledge and understanding of what we see is to high. All we have is an image that appears across our screens. The reality of the image can only be replaced by our own subjective interpretation without any recourse to facts. The reproduction of content, without sourcing it, takes the knowledge out of its context and makes it one dimensional. Only by showing sources can the onlooker be assisted to a better understanding.

To @historyepics & @HistoryInPics and their ilk who make social media shallow, I say: Images without context is not history. I doubt they care, but I do.

Surveillance and hi-resolution

Huge hi-res images are fascinating and the London Panorama from the BT Tower is no exception. But the resolution got me thinking that this was an excellent visualization of what surveillance really can look like. It’s not only the barely visible images taken from cheap cameras on walls. Check out the zoom on this baby…

Do you see the man with the red shirt and glasses?

Copyright Reform

Just rediscovered why I like Mimi & Eunice – check out this one on copyright reform

This one’s going into the book.

Update: I’m going to try to write a haiku for every Mimi & Eunice comic this week. Today’s:

Real artists don’t wait
For lawyers and officials
To give permission.

Good advice for the rapture

Some grey bloke has done a brilliant video on advice for the rapture today…

“cancel you papers… you dont need to make it more difficult for those left behind, they already have the tribulation to deal with… so they don’t need to go out to your house carrying the Sunday supplements…”

Catholic Destruction of Art

Like it or not, Andres Serrano image of a plastic crucifix in urine Piss Christ (1987) is a powerful anti-religion statement, not so much the belief system but the abuse by the organization.

Naturally powerful art makes enemies. From the Guardian (18 April)

On Saturday, around 1,000 Christian protesters marched through Avignon to the gallery… But on Palm Sunday morning, four people in sunglasses aged between 18 and 25 entered the exhibition just after it opened at 11am. One took a hammer out of his sock and threatened the guards with it. A guard grabbed another man around the waist but within seconds the group managed to take a hammer to the plexiglass screen and slash the photograph with another sharp object, thought to be a screwdriver or ice-pick. They also smashed another work, which showed the hands of a meditating nun.

After all the complaints and attitudes that it is only repressive regimes or Islamic movements who repress and censor it would be nice if all those who pointed fingers at those people now stood up and claimed about Catholics attempting to suppress free speech, art and culture. But somehow I doubt that this will happen.

Andres Serrano Piss Christ (1987)

If the Catholic church wants to stand up as a agent of good – then a quick and clear condemnation of the destruction in Avignon should be presented from the highest authority. But somehow I doubt that this will happen.

Its not that easy supporting free speech when you disagree with the content. But it is weak when you condemn the suppression of speech by others just because you don’t disagree with the content.

Visualizing the (invisible) archive

The Swedish National Heritage Board is an excellent example of an authority with a mixed archive of miscellaneous content. Among their content are old photographs and among the photographs are the works of the Swedish physician (and prominent balneologist) Carl Curman (1833-1913). His photographs found their way into the archives and have spent an uneventful century mainly gathering dust.

Then last year the heritage board joined Flickr Commons and began adding Curman’s images to the pool. The results were spectacular to say the least. Today the heritage K-Blogg reports

I was quite thrilled this morning when I had a glance at the Flickr statistics for views on our account on Flickr Commons. The magical limit of 1 000 000 views since the launching on 2009.03.17, was reached – actually the number was 1 000 100 when I looked, a nice sight.

Digitalization brings with it many interesting problems and, at times, we focus too much on these negative issues. But as these results show, by opening up the archives in this way the almost forgotten works have been revived and made relevant again.