Category Archives: AFF609a

Creating Digital humanities Artifacts

Computational Analysis vs. Curatorial Expertise

Computational analysis sees the powers of machines, and can constitute the sensing and analysing of files like an image. Computers can be thought how to recognise images, Colours, shapes, faces all have to be defined for the computer to recognise them if asked.
In class we were given an introduction to Tracking.js, with practical exercises showing us how to use this library in this practice and set parameters for what we were trying to detect. Tracking.js is a library of different computer programs, useful for detecting attributes of images. It can be used to sense colours, faces or shapes. A large advantage is that it is browser based, which make it very easy to use and it is open source.
Digital objects require metadata to be used, and while there are very basic labelling systems that a computer can generate, the image requires time resources to be devoted to it alongside digitisation. Complicated algorithms are be used by computer platforms to “read” an image, or any digital file. This works by detecting elements, defined as part of the computer program. Computer scientists create the algorithms, but the consumer can use them. E.g. SAS suite of Textual Analysis programs. An important point is that it may not detect all, or might get things mixed up or identify extra elements ike eyes of a face, and crevices. It only looks at what is available to it, what it can identify, what it has been programmed to do – human expertise is needed to interpret the results.
One should consider that computers are machines and parameters need to be defined for them to operate under. Limits need to be set, because how they work is by searching within specified parameters. Software also requires human design, there is a decision making process where default behaviours of programs have to be decided. Any program is designed with certain assumptions in mind, and it is a good idea to bear this in mind when choosing software for computational analysis. The example of the SAS suite of Textual Analysis programs referred to above, for example, has several tools that are used for different aspects as a part of data mining which are listed by Chrakraborty, Pagolu and Garla (4) Use of such software for analysis requires an understanding of the data set at hand, and curatorial expertise.
The computer doesn’t care about what its analysing it is a machine, it just calculates based on the parameters defined by the user. Curatorial expertise implies a lifetime of learning behind it, analytical skills and critical thinking. The advantage of the human over the computer is interpretation, a computer can be fooled deliberately by controlling conditions if you know what the computer is looking for or accidentally by similar looking areas (in the case of visual computational analysis). While human error is indeed possible, hopefully curatorial expertise would reduce these chances. Furthermore, human expertise may reveal significance quicker than a computer would – at least from data output by a computer. Furthermore, computational analysis needs human expertise to be further developed, not just in terms of developing technological capabilities but also in terms of specifically identifying data relevant to a field and being able to narrow it down enough and make it machine readable.
Computational analysis is not perfect yet, but it is being constantly improved. New digital tools are constantly being developed and improved upon, however it should always be remembered that this requires human effort. Furthermore, it requires human understanding and curatorial expertise as one needs to know what to look for in the first place to design a program to do the task. Though the machine will provide results based on what it is looking for, interpretation is required to understand the significance of results.

Works Cited

Goutam Chakraborty, Murali Pagolu, Satish Garla. Text Mining and Analysis: Practical Methods, Examples, and Case Studies Using SAS. (2013) North Carolina, USA: SAS. Web.

Images on Social Media

Social media is increasingly playing a prominent role in everyday life, especially in the western world.  Large multinational companies are beginning to monopolise particular services “free” to the user like Google search engine, or Facebook, who owns Instagram and has tried to buy Snapchat. They may be free to use, but that is because their product is the user reach that they have for advertisers and business. These profiles are becoming increasingly important as online identity and there has been rising demand in the past number of years for services to be provided on the internet. Images have a prominent position, being eyecatching, identifiable and are generated from a variety of sources.

In fact, it is a barrage of images and information as part of a platform for users to communicate, with significant cultural influence both in terms of user generated culture and the transmission of existing human expression and knowledge. For this reason it also as a place for forming cultural identity, as evidenced by the use of particular sites by subcultures e.g graffiti artist profiles on flickr etc. Groups form and the image can be representative of a unification – a logo if you will. The capability is there for online communities to form and post images, interact with one another and take things away into their daily lives – regardless of the type of image. Associations with images can be made by users online e.g. Evil Kermit and indulging oneself. Furthermore, these “cultures” spreads rapidly amongst a large pool of uses worldwide online through ideas and the image.

Interaction begins to take place in a “third space”, with ideas shared between cultures . Though extensively criticised for his use of dense language, Homi K. Bhabha provides a framework for understanding the clashing and merging of cultures and appropriation of different elements resulting in “hybridity” and “mimicry”. E.g American hip-hop culture, the “gangster” image – and the appropriation of Box hats and baggy trousers. The role that social media plays in trend setting, commercial sales and creating a personal image hasn’t been concretely defined and researched yet but there are undoubtedly links. “Selfies” as a form of image have become incredibly power online, common amongst Facebook, Snapchat and other social media users and the profile photo functions as a form of representation of identity. The potential for the social media to be capitalised on is recognised by advertising, branding and marketing companies who increasingly make efforts to engage audiences onlineOr comic book culture, and its popularisation alongside the release of multiple high budget commercial cinema films merging the Marvel and DC “universes”. they certainly take advantage of hashtags

This third wave post-structuralist theory is adaptable, and can be applied to Social media sees user generated content in the form of profile photos and posting, videos etc. Different platforms see different use: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram all have different uses but the image has significant power in all of them. Construction of identity

Photos have a significant amount the information attached to them like user generated tags, location, captions etc. separate from the codified construction of the image itself. Who are the audience for posted photos? How are they taken symbolically, and what systems are the for “reading them”

Of course this space is shared by Events, businesses, promoters, and advertised who all generate images. Information security and privacy issues aside, how information is disseminated has changed greatly, seeing a blurring of the lines between social or personal communication and media communication.

Postmodernist concerns seem useful for criticism, reality has become increasingly mediated by social media. Memes, “facts” . Even “fake news” has come to the attention of the public, with speculation of its role in the American presidential election – all grab out attention with images. Hyper-reality with connotations of illegitimacy in a Baudrillian sense seems apt, and the simulacrum seems applicable to the social world online. It’s a question of information as well as images. Images can be stolen, manipulated, framed in different manners. “Catfish”is a documentary about uncovering the false information given by an online “friend” who had falsified an entire family history supported with images and addresses. Connotations of illegitimacy and uncertainty mark the image online. Especially considering photoshop and other photo modifying software, but the information attached to an image is equally if not more important


Works Cited

Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994. Print.

Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994. Print.

“Evil Kermit meme seeks to seduce us all to the dark side (23 Photos)” By Bob. Date of Publication: 17 Nov. 2016.


“Catfish” 2011 Universial Pictures: C.A.Ariel Schulman; Henry Joost; Ryan Kavanaugh; Brett Ratner; Tucker Tooley; Andrew Jarecki; Marc Smerling; Zac Stuart-Pontier; Mark Mothersbaugh; Yaniv Schulman; Angela Wesselman;

“NSA flickr account”Anon. Flickr. Date of Access: 29 Nov. 2016.



Concerns when curating an Image Collection

Curating an image collection presents its own concerns and challenges. Where photos for a collection are sourced can bring up problems, especially around ownership to images and rights to their distribution. Copyright law aside, there are ethical considerations when sourcing images. Especially when images are drawn from private collections. If the photographer is no longer alive to give their permission, like in Finding Vivian Maier, is it acceptable to bring their work into the public domain? This may be an extreme example, but it nonetheless highlights numerous issues around ethics in relation to presentation of image collection, and the attachment of information to the images. Particularly in the digital age when information can be distributed quickly and cheaply to a large audience. The internet provides numerous platforms that can host image collections, with its own set of issues. The photographs taken by Vivian Maier were purchased in an auction by Maloof who scanned them and published them online alongside his blog via popular website ’Flickr’ in August 2009– allowing them to be viewed by a large audience. Though the image collection in this example was largely ‘discovered’ in the form of negatives, physical exhibition required the collection of prints which were sold for monetary gain

Collections of images have to source their material somewhere. The purpose of the collection largely dictates where photos are sourced from and how they are presented. An amateur historian, Maloof bought 30,000 negatives at an auction – later purchasing more from others who had bought them originally. The images in question were mainly taken around New York, and Chicago over a womans lifetime as she worked as a nanny for numerous Chicago families and photographing daily. “Taking snapshots into the late 1990′s, Maier would leave behind a body of work comprising over 100,000 negatives. Additionally Vivian’s passion for documenting extended to a series of homemade documentary films and audio recordings.” (“About Vivian Maier”, Maloof Collections) This provided archival material, original negatives showcasing her natural talent which were previously unpublished and undocumented. The controversy over this collection of images encompasses privacy issues, and it is worth bearing in mind that Vivian Maier had no input in how the work was framed. How images are framed and presented in an image collection affects how they are perceived and consumed by an audience.

Curation of images requires further categorisation and the attachment of information to photos to contextualise them. Largely unknown in her own lifetime, Vivian Maier’s “discovery” began with this collection of images curated by John Maloof being published online, and later being exhibited first in New York and then internationally. She was an enigmatic and elusive character who literally made efforts to hide her work from others, and framing her work in this context gave it mystery and intrigue which was picked up on by various magazine and newspaper articles that brought her to public attention. The ‘public eye‘  has always been a powerful force, with the internet consumer interaction has changed – seeing an increased input into the process which the consumer is interacting with. Maloof attracted a lot of attention and began digging in to her history and this became a big part of the exhibition of her work. Crowdsourcing was used to source funding via popular website Kickstarter and a documentary was made, interviewing the children she used to nanny. His efforts received a lot of media attention, with articles being written about Vivian Maier who became a phenonomon. “Maloof has edited a book of her work, Vivian Maier: Street Photographer, which was published in November, and has raised money for a documentary film about her that is in the works.” (Zax, December 2011) The issue here at hand is the invasive searching for information about Maier resulting in scrutiny of the artist’s life as well as here work. Some controversy was generated by the recording of interviews of many surviving people who knew Vivian Maier during her life, building an interesting picture but also implying mental illness and a darker side to her character. Ethics and the attachment of context and information to images are concerns when curating an image collection – largely in the hands of the collectors and the gallery, but now becoming more complex in the age of information.



Works Cited

Maloof, John,, et al. Finding Vivian Maier. Widescreen. Sundance Selects, 2014.

Vivian Maier. 2016 Maloof Collections. Web. Date of Access 18 Nov. 2016.

Maier, Vivian. Self Portrait. Digital image. Vivian Maier. Maloof Collections, Nov. 2013. Web. 18 Nov. 2016. <>.

Zax, David. “Vivian Maier: The Unheralded Street Photographer”Smithsonian Magzine. December 2011. Web. Date of Access: 18 Nov. 2016.

The Limits of Digitisation


Jeffery argues that virtual representation has merit in itself, but he also points out that there are limits and issues surrounding digitisation. “In the digital domain long-standing issues of data integration, discovery and long-term preservation have now begun to be tackled in a meaningful way.” (144) How we understand digitisation is important, and the purpose affects the process itself – depending on why we are digitising (or recording), the data associated may change and even how it is presented and to what standards are adhered to (which affect how it can be accessed and used by programs and people). Though Jeffery is talking specifically about digitisation as an indispensable tool for archaeology and other specific areas – this is a widely applicable point on the digital sciences overall. While computer sciences have come on a long way in a relatively short space of time, further review and development is still needed to resolve longstanding issues around the use of data. Technological limits on digitisation aside, there are still conceptual limits stemming from earlier issues around representation.

Automatic means of production supposed ‘objectivity’ separates this representation from the artistic processes previously required. While advancements in technology have furthered the scope of digitisation, many issues surrounding recording and representation have been discussed previously. “Originality in photography as distinct from originality in painting lies in the essentially objective character of photography.” (Bazin, 7) Due to this ‘objectivity’, there is a credibility implied of the representation of a “real” object. “Photography enjoys a certain advantage in virtue of this transference of reality from its thing to its reproduction” (Bazin, 8) The understanding of photography as storage of data, measurements and recordings of ‘real life’ is often extended to the digital world. However, just as Bazin experimented with manipulating this “reality” in film to display the creative vision of the director– digital technology can be used to manipulate data and representations according to the inputter, the choices they have made and the processes that they have followed to digitise and attach data. Digital technology has reached a point where it can be used to create new and virtual objects of unprecedentedly high quality, while this widens the scope of recording and digitisation it also brings up conceptual difficulties. It is difficult to say which category digitisation falls into as on one hand it connotes authenticity as recording of data, but on the other hand the capacity to for manipulation has ramifications for how we understand this recording or representation.

Semiotics have provided useful critical tools for examining the art and the object, interpreted according to subjectivities – and these concerns are also applicable to digitisation, and the collection of data which is ultimately a representation. One of the key distinctions is between the ‘signifier’ or representation and the ‘signified’- what it represents. “Context other words, is a text itself, and it thus consists of signs that require interpretation” (Bal and Bryson, 175) There are choices made about the information included alongside digitisation. The attachment of metadata to a digital object e.g. a photograph, allows its indexing and aids computer programs use of data attached to a file. Encoding data has its limitations, needing a structure that can be accessed and read. XML as a hierarchal coding language has become the industry standard, and is extendable – providing a basis for other coding languages that attach metadata to photos. It has the capacity to take in different types of data or signifying elements, but this also needs to be read or interpreted to make use of it necessitating standards. How information is attached to a digitised object and how it is presented, as well as how it can be used and accessed by computers and people. Standardised schemas like Dublin Core and VRA core are utilised in order to make metadata accessible and readable but though they are commonly used, these may not be the best schemas for encapsulating data depending on what is being digitised and why. A further consideration is that metadata needs to be attached the original object (or signified), but also the digitised image or scan and surrounding data (signifiers).



Bal, Mieke and Bryson, Norman “Semiotics and Art History”. The Art Bulletin, Vol. 73, No. 2 (1991), pp. 174-208

Bazin, Andre. “The Ontology of the Photographic Image” Trans. Hugh Gray. Film Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 4 (1960), pp. 4-9
“Film Theorist Andre Bazin” Web.
Jeffrey, Stuart. “Challenging Heritage Visualisation: Beauty, Aura and Democratisation.” Open Archaeology, No. 1: (2015), pp. 144–152