Monthly Archives: April 2012

Some thoughts from Stuart on his approach when selecting photos from both the Flickr National Maritime Museum photostream and the digitalised Historic Photographs collection:

view photostream

stumayhew  Pro User  says:

Here is where I am approaching this project from.

My initial remit was to tag only images I feel would hang in a contemporary photographic gallery , but this has broadened somewhat to include images that are simply very strong photographically , either graphically or compositionally . The images I have tagged so far are all based on this principle.

My whole approach to this project is solely from within a photographic frame work , I know very little about shipping or naval history and frankly no huge interest in the subject . I absolutely believe that an exhibition based on photography should primarily be driven by just that.

As part of my involvement with Aperture Woolwich Photographic Society it is one of my tasks to review and ‘judge’ other members images that then go forward into larger camera club competitions. In my 5 years of doing this I have developed a good understanding of what ‘makes’ a strong composition , based on attending and listening to a multitude photographic judges and lecturers.

Such is the diversity of images within this collection I started to form other idea’s that could work as part of this project so its very hard to stay focused on a single theme !

Other idea’s that i have had are images that depict streets and buildings and views local to the museum , of which there are quite a few in the collection. It would be possible to ‘geo-tag’ these and visitors could then , via a smartphone ‘app’ perhaps with the images on their phone or accessing via flickr , go outside into the surrounding area and find the exact spot the original image was taken from and perhaps take their own of what is there now – this could be as geographically far reaching as central London perhaps and would keep visitors involved with the exhibition beyond their physical visit to the museum. Of wider value locally it keeps visitors with-in the area , using local shops and restaurants perhaps.

I also liked the idea of presenting a series of portraits, which in my mind i have split into 2 themes. One which would work well with unidentified people within the image , where the viewer of the image would be asked to imagine what kind of life the person within the image led , ‘an imagined life’ if you will. I dont know if it would be possible for peoples ideas and thoughts to appear on some of the smaller screens as text , or perhaps some of us could write what we imagine.

Secondly , with the high influx of international tourists that will be even more concentrated during the Olympics , portraits of as many different nationalities / cultures as possible – where visitors can make a connection not only with their past but also their home.

Rebecca had an interesting idea of the images of women in the collection , there are several really strong portraits of women in the collection , the portrait of Elisabeth Jacobsen in the Villiers Collection is really striking.



On 14 April 2012 the assorted members of the Curate the Collection group met for the first time at the National Maritime Museum. Jane Findlay, the National Maritime Museum’s digital participation officer has summarised the outcome of this introductory meeting in a recent email to whole group:

    ‘The session was an introduction to the project and a chance for people to get to know one another, the Museum and the space. The project will involve participants curating a display of historical photographs from the Museum’s collection in the Compass Lounge. This will involve accessing the Museum’s photographic collection both online and through a visit to the brass foundry, selecting images for display and interpreting them for visitors. The display space features 8 large photo frames for printed reproductions and 9 small digital photo frames for digital images. Through discussing each other’s interests and ideas for the project we have made a start in considering what we would like to display and to think of the reasons behind this. The workshops on 12 and 13 May will be structured around selecting final images and developing textual interpretation for the display’

For me personally, it was the first time I have visited Greenwich or the National Maritime Museum.  I had no real expectations for the meeting apart from a desire to see how exhibitions are constructed in a museum space using both interactive content and user opinion/feedback.

Armed with my historical hat on I approached the meeting with increasing excitement. I spent the morning  exploring Royal Greenwich and after being surrounded by Maritime  buildings, pubs and boats (Cutty Shark) I was ready to begin debating. I was very encouraged by the diversity of personalities, ages and opinions amongst the Flickr group. I was able to hear each individuals  motivations for joining the group and these varied explanations ranged from a passing interests in the local history of Greenwich to family ties with both the military and merchant Navies – all brought together by a mutual appreciation of Flickr and its communal spirit.

The breadth of individual interests certainly complicated our attempts to ascertain a common theme for our project. This was further complicated by the wealth of available archive material that we could have access to. Our resources include the  Flickr Commons,  The National Maritime Museum digitalised collection and a planned visit to the photographic archive at the Brass Founday.  

As a group we were also introduced to ‘The Compass Lounge’ exhibition space and caught a tangible glimpse of our future interactive exhibition space.  Marrying both digital and print photography in an interactive space may pose some interesting challenges for the group but I was again encouraged by the plethora of imaginative ideas.

We spent the rest of the session exploring the Flickr Commons and on-line NMM historical photographs collections.

I was also surprised to learn that only about 1% of the NMM’s photographic collection has been digitalised. If anything this project will hopefully be a reason to digitalise individual images that would not usually see the light of day outside of the NMM collection.

Next stop the Brass Foundry!

Summary of discussion Flickr Commons Project 14th April 2012

There was a lot of discussion about whether the selected photographs should reflect personal interests or whether there should be a target audience in mind given that the display would run throughout the summer, attracting diverse audiences for significant events such as the Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics.

Most members of the group agreed that they would like the theme to be something that was not obvious and perhaps use photographs that were less viewed by museum audiences. Another popular idea was that the display should reflect the local history of Greenwich and surrounding areas. We spent the rest of the afternoon browsing images that reflected some of the themes that were suggested and members of the group began to select favourites for consideration at the following workshops.

The following list outlines some of the key themes that emerged from suggestions made by group members and might be useful to keep in mind when browsing through the collections on Flickr Commons and on the museum website over the course of the next few weeks:

Themes Emerging

  • ‘Long Way From Home’ –the documentation of different locations, countries, nationalities etc. Another idea involved drawing upon the various road names and locations throughout London that reflected other countries, cultures and communities. For example, Canada Water, Jamaica Road, and road names that reflect coal-mining communities from the North East.
  • Greenwich and Maritime Life – documenting local maritime history
  • The River Thames – documenting how the river has changed over the last 100 years. Source photographs that are representative of the river for each decade?
  • Shipbuilding and Boatbuilding
  • Humour and fun – this suggestion from David was very popular and would be an opportunity to explore the collections from a different angle. This theme has the potential to relate to a diverse audience and could also overlap with some of the other suggested themes
  • Ordinary Lives, ordinary people

With the use of social media so widespread and so commonplace these days, it’s hardly a surprise that big institutions in London have taken to networks to try to cultivate and grow their audience. What is perhaps a little more curious is that most of them seem to adopt a catch-all approach rather than having some focus on specific groups.

Maybe it’s because “mummy bloggers”, for example, are perceived as a phenomenon while photographers and photography aren’t (though the price paid for Instagram should surely prompt some re-thinking). Perhaps the logic is along the lines that you can sell, either directly or via advertising, to the “mummy market”. While photographers are viewed as little more than a potential source of free images that would have had to have been paid for in the past. In both cases it feels like the traffic is one way.

There are some notable exceptions, but they are few and far between. One of the best (and possibly earliest) examples of what can be done happened in 2007. In conjunction with their Henry Moore exhibition, Kew Gardens ran a photo showcase to feature images contributed via Flickr.

James Morley, the website manager at Kew, offered free tickets to Flickr users for one day (and laid on tea and biscuits). The afternoon was a great success and the photos taken helped seed the group. By the time the exhibition closed more than 2,500 pictures had been submitted, with guest judges selecting a top 20 for each season – including one of mine – and an overall top 20 at the end.

At the time it seemed to be a novel idea that was cleverly executed. But, for whatever reasons, Kew never seemed to take it any further.

The following year the London Transport Museum did something similar, holding a mini-meet as part of their re-opening. Unfortunately, any goodwill the museum established is likely to have evaporated in the wake of the way photographers were treated at the recent Aldwych station open day.

So when I read that the National Maritime Museum were looking for active Flickr users to take part in a co-curation project I was curious on multiple levels. I come from a naval background but last visited the museum as a child. I’ve lived in Docklands for decades and have walked through Greenwich countless times but have never thought of paying the museum a return visit. And the project involved the Commons, a feature that Flickr and museums could, I think, put to much better use.

The basic idea of the NMM project is simple. Get a group of people to select a batch of photos to be exhibited for six months in the museum’s interactive galleries in the Compass lounge. Either from material already in the Commons, or from the museum’s own online collection and traditional archive. What gets chosen and why will also contribute to a PhD project by Bronwen Colquhoun, researching how the Commons is used.

The chance to get a behind the scenes look at the NMM archives was tempting enough. But I also have a vested interest in seeing the Commons developed. I’m working on a project with a local historian to put old images of London online for everybody’s benefit, so the more material that’s available from the greatest number of sources the better.

I didn’t set out for Greenwich with many strongly pre-conceived ideas about what I wanted to see. I wasn’t sure there was any point in looking at major historical events (the Battle of Trafalgar, for example, has probably been done to death) and I’m not a nautical nerd, so images of ships for their own sake weren’t likely to float my boat. I was looking for something “different”; something that made me pause and wonder about what I was seeing and the story behind it.

The first point to note, and this is a Flickr failing rather than a fault of the NMM, is that it’s not immediately obvious that the museum is a member of the Commons. Go to the list of participating institutions and you’ll find a page that appears to be arranged in a random order. It’s not until you scroll almost to the end that you find a link to the museum’s Flickr stream.

There are 800-plus photos to delve into on Flickr. What most people won’t realise, because there’s no obvious link, is that there are thousands more to view in the collections on the museum’s own site. I can understand that, because of rights restrictions, not everything can be placed in the Commons. But I think it is a strcutural failing that the casual viewer (as I was at the time) isn’t given any pointers to other places to look.

It’s when you launch into the stream that things starts to get interesting. I skipped over a page of mainly naval material before I alighted on this.

Group shots of factory workers (often on an annual outing to the seaside) are, I think, quite commonplace. So it must have been that the picture had been taken just up the road that made me pause. Perhaps there were still local connections? The rest of our group weren’t quite as curious, wondering whether it was “maritime” enough. You can understand why. The only description was: “Staff at R & H Green and Silley Weir Ltd’s Blackwall establishment”.

There had to be a reason that photo was in the museum’s collection. It only took seconds to establish that Green and Silley Weir were based at Blackwall Yard, a major centre for ship building and repair. The Wikipedia page noted: “…should not be confused with the nearby Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company…”. And there, suddenly, was an interesting course to follow.

I knew there had been ship building at Deptford, but clearly a lot more had been going on along that reach of the Thames. And I’d heard of Thames Ironworks, but only in the context of West Ham football. I didn’t know they’d operated on such a scale they had once been described as “Leviathan workshops”.

And just as ships arrived in London from around the globe, a Japanese warship started life on the Thames.

Notice anything interesting about the launch of the Shikshima? Take a look at the flag flying from the building on the left. Now that’s not something you’d see very often in east London.
I wouldn’t be surprised to unearth a lot more intriguing images over the next few weeks of the project, and what gets chosen for the display and why will be interesting enough. But the spin-off ideas from this project – guest bloggers choosing their own favourite mini-collections perhaps – could lead a lot further. It is, of course, part of a museum’s remit to organise and exhibit material in a way that informs or educates or illustrates. But there are millions of objects and only so much time. Why shouldn’t other people be involved in selecting and promoting items that might otherwise languish unseen?

I’m a photographer first and foremost, who also happens to have some curiosity about social history. One of the things I found most revealing at this project’s first meeting was that not everybody else in the group would necessarily identify themselves as a photographer. They had interests in the sea or maritime history or found objects or other fields. For them, Flickr was more about a place to view images rather than display them, and to share knowledge with people around the world.

The museum can obviously see the potential benefits of harnessing that hive mind. Flickr’s management would also do well to heed what people use their service for as they face growing challenges from other photo sharing sites and networks.

It is, I think, about a common purpose. Rather than one-way traffic it should be a form of give and take. The museum gets the benefit of fresh eyes being brought to bear on its collections, which might help influence how scarce resources are used for digitising material. While people interested in the images get the benefit of having them made visible rather than gathering dust in unseen archives. And in the middle, Flickr get the kudos for facilitating the sharing process.

The Commons was, I believe, the brainchild of George Oates. After she left Flickr, the Commons seem to have languished rather unloved. It would be good to see the NMM project be a little kickstarter for institutions to have an intelligent dialogue with photographers.

Originally posted by Steve at: