Digital representations are problematic from many points of view. Some of these issues have been discussed in earlier episodes of this series on The Power of the Image here and here. In an effort to answer or, at least, recognise the challenges presented by a sudden emergence of highly effective and accessible technologies such as photogrammetry, virtual reality and others, The London Charter was drawn up and published in 2006.
The document sets out a number of objectives and principles which aims to achieve consensus on challenges, best practice and appropriate implementation of such technologies. It came in response to the sudden increase in both quality and ubiquity of digital photorealistic representations.
Its authors understood that there may be a significant element of technological determinism developing in the fields concerned, such as archeology, archeology computing, museum studies, digital humanities, digital cultural heritage and others. This is manifest in the words of Dr. Hugh Denard, an editor and joint coordinator on the project, in his New Introduction to the London Charter (2012):
‘The London Charter initiative arose as a response to the increasingly widely recognised need to ensure the ever-increasing expressive power of computer graphics become accountable to the rigorous standards of historical research […] It was a key realisation, therefore, that the headlong career towards hyperrealism, photorealism, virtual reality and other such graphical innovations might actually be taking us further away from, not nearer to, accountable knowledge representation.’
This is an admirable and necessary reaction to both disruptive and enabling technologies. The distractingly spectacular results made possible by such methods and technologies requires examination as to the effect on the viewer. The effect on the practitioner and practice is perhaps more concerning and this is what the London Charter aims to audit. It is not an exercise in disincentive, disapproval or sentimentality. It appears to be an exercise in rigour. A necessary appraisal, caution and guide for a revolutionary time.
Digital methods have been a shot in the arm for many fields, disciplines and industries. The Digital Humanities and Digital Cultural Heritage areas need such examples of probity and cohesion to make the most of such developments. To benefit the most will be to maintain poise focus and relevance in a moment of upheaval. Such responses will not only serve the disciplines in the future but will underline their own value in terms of the tradition, convention and legacy of the academy.
There may be a feeling of dogma and self evident glaring in parts of the document. It may not be as far reaching as some might deem necessary and it may seem to be merely reassertions of what were taken as granted within the fields before the recent technological leaps but this is probably the point. In a time of such quick change a re-anchoring, reiteration and reassertion of values may be the most important pause during an unstoppable motion forward.
Objectives as stated by The London Charter
Provide a benchmark having widespread recognition among stakeholders.
Promote intellectual and technical rigour in such uses.
Ensure that computer-based visualisation processes and outcomes can be properly understood and evaluated by users
Enable computer-based visualisation authoritatively to contribute to the study, interpretation and management of cultural heritage assets.
Ensure access and sustainability strategies are determined and applied.
Offer a robust foundation upon which communities of practice can build detailed London Charter Implementation Guidelines.
Denard, Hugh. “A new introduction to the London Charter.” Paradata and Transparency in Virtual Heritage Digital Research in the Arts and Humanities Series(Ashgate, 2012) (2012): 57-71.