We live in times when images, and especially digital images, are ubiquitous. Most of us share photographs daily on social media platforms like Flickr, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. There are other platforms in existence, for example Google’s “Open Gallery” (which is part of the Google Cultural Institute platform) that also make it possible for anybody to upload images, videos and arrange exhibitions, i.e. to become a curator of an online exhibition. The pervasiveness of image sharing platforms and the facilitated access to these platforms for lay-people can leave us with the illusion that we are all curators and that the role of professional curators will soon become obsolete. I tend to disagree with this view and believe that although technology has developed rapidly in recent years, not everybody can be considered a curator per se.
It is also important to point out that the development of technologies, such as computational image analysis, poses the question of whether or not curation can be done without the participation of a human agent. Computational image analysis is a very powerful tool as it saves time and effort for the image curator. The internet has become flooded with billions of images and sorting through them, categorising them and organising them has become a colossal task. With the help of technology, sifting through images has become easier and faster.
This does not mean that computational image analysis can substitute the judgment made by a curator. I agree with Steve Rosenbaum who states that “Computers can’t distinguish
between data and ideas or between human intellect and aggregated text and links”. This is the main reason why I am of the view that computational image analysis cannot replace the input of human curators. Computers do not feel or think as humans (or at least not yet!). Exhibitions are made with the purpose of reaching certain audiences, with the intention of broadcasting particular ideas and/or evoke certain memories or feelings. This is where the role of the curators becomes immensely important. Although computers can help in the curation of images, the organisation of an exhibition itself, in relation to the selection of images cannot be made by a computer. Curators are the experts who evaluate the images and identify what images would fit with the specific theme. Selecting the images, their arrangement and presentation, are not actions that can be done solely by machines. Every exhibition aims to achieve certain emotive responses within the audience, and that is where computational analysis fails. The curator, through his experience, both personal and social, knows how the human psyche works. Sifting through the avalanche of images can be done faster and easier with the help of computational tools but choosing the most appropriate images and contextualising them can be achieved solely by a human agent.
When talking about computational image analysis and human curatorship, I feel that there is no need to juxtapose them. There are many benefits to computational image analysis but I remain of the view that its role is ancillary to the role of the human curator. On the other hand, modern curators need to embrace new technologies in order to deliver the best possible experience for their audiences.
Rosenbaum, Steve. “Why Curation is Just as Important as Creation [Opinion]”. Mashable UK, 17 March 2011, available from http://mashable.com/2011/03/17/curation-importance/#HRx6RU7BiiqF. Accessed on 13 December 2016.
Palladino, Valentina. “Google Open Gallery launches, letting almost anyone create online exhibitions”. The Verge, 10 December 2013,
available from www.theverge.com/2013/12/10/5197124/google-open-gallery-launches-letting-almost-anyone-create-online. Accessed on 13 December 2016.