The Powerhouse Museum has joined the Commons on Flickr. Drawing on images from the Tyrrell Collection the museum have put a couple of hundred early photographs online. These are significant examples of early Australian photography so its great to see them out in the open. The Powerhouse on Flickr managed to sidetrack me wonderfully for an hour or so! I could not resist this early image of Darling Harbour in Sydney. It’s interesting to see the landscape yet to be dressed in some of much loved national icons.

Thanks to Fresh and Newer for the news and doing the work which you can read about here

Flickr Commons aims at being a secondary point of access to some of the out-of-Copyright historical photo collections held in the US Library of Congress. The Library has a photo collection of over a million photos and they have chosen about 1,500 photos to show on Flickr.

When institutions place images on sites such as Flickr it not only allows them to reach a broader audience but also that audience can help classify and tag a collection. That is what this Flickr Commons experiment is also about. You can read about this project on the flickr blog.

Allowing people to classify reference material as they need to, rather than have a classification system imposed on them holds some very interesting implications that are not just the obvious shift in the way we classify information.  Traditionally classification systems also imply power as inherent in the activity is the structures that influence  how informatin is accessed, shared, used, and understood.

Cultural artifacts, such as photographs, can be items that the viewer either identifies with. For instance as an Aussie a photograph of the Sydney Opera House would hold a different meaning for me  than say a photograph of Big Ben. Photographs of vegemite or a hills hoist clothes line would hold different meanings again. I would recognise these things and they would trigger in part personal memories. They would not only be part of a larger story but also be part of my story. In other words as images, I would relate to, recognise their shared cultural and identify with such images in some manner.

Classifying images, also creates shared meanings. When people as well as experts classify images the process can shift the value of the image, not only in the viewers mind but in the society that uses, shares, and creates meanings around that image.

I am rambling this morning but it is an interesting project!

The British Museum have changed their domain name to


Visipix “collects, edits, indexes and publishes photos and art of our cultural world heritage. In print quality, for free.”

The site houses one of the most interesting collections of art and photos I have come across online. Images are large, high resolution, free for private use and easily searched. The site aims to build “best picture museum in the internet” and there is much to discover because they state they have 66,300 exhibits!

The site houses images of all sorts from cultures around the world. Painting, prints, woodblocks, drawings, books, graphic arts, even things like postcards or graffiti has its place. Advertising finances the site so you do encounter pop ups and the like but I found I did not object as the quality of what was to be found was so good. The high resolution images mean you can see everything in the image. They are ideal to study.

The screen shot below are just some of the images that are available of a Japanese Kimono pattern book that I discovered. There is some unique material on this site don’t miss it.


After discovering a directory of museum and museum-related blogs I have been poking around and finding that few are holding my attention long. Much of it is because I feel these blogs do not know who they are writing for. As a reader I sense that authors have no sense of their audience. Are they writing for readers within the profession, other curators, or the general public? Often a dry academic tone dominates yet it has little substance. If I am going to wade through academic writing in a blog I want a well developed idea behind it. I want to learn something from my effort. As a reader if I put the effort and time in at the end I would like some satisfaction. Unfortunately I found often this is not case.

What I would prefer is to see the writing style loosen up a bit and see the passion. Why are these collections important to the author and in turn me? What role can they play in my life? Why is the author in this profession? How can this profession add to the internal mental texture of my life? I know these collections and the profession is important as these institutions shape and tell our cultural narratives. These narrative in part shape who I am. Perhaps my disappointment in “museum blogs” is in part because I value our national collections so much and take pleasure in visiting museums and galleries whenever I travel. For me it is a key method of gaining an insight into another culture.

The cultural artefacts I encounter on these visits have often lived in my memory for years. I still remember the first time I saw Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers in the National Gallery in London for the first time. I always feel that painting snuck up on me as I was there to meet a friend and encountered it by accident for a moment it literally made me gasp. The memory of light on that painting on that day still gives me goose bumps 20 years later. In other words the painting has textured my life in a subtle manner. As a member of the public I value these collections of the world. They allow me to see the world in a different way and in the process tell me a little about myself and what it is to be human. Surely there are few writers out there in the profession that can feed my curiosity about their institution.

I would love read more blogs that are written for the general public. I hate the term general public but I am sure you understand what I mean. There are lots of areas to write about. I am sure people would love to understand how exhibits are assembled and how the narrative is shaped. What objects are included and what is left out and why. I personally would love to know more about how digital media is used and perceived by the profession. Other areas of interest are restoration and conservation. The how and why not just that it is done.

How can developing a regular general public readership help our arts institutions and organizations? This question is possibly best answered by illustration. Recently I have encountered a blog written by the Digital media team at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney are writing a blog Fresh + New The strength of this blog is that as a reader I am given an insight into the discussions within the industry about digital media and its use in museums. The blog is written for those in the profession. Unlike some, there is not a hint of pretense or elitism.

As a reader I have a glimpse of the struggle professionals and organizations are encountering with the advent of participatory media. I was fascinated, spent a couple of hours reading, and added the blog to my RSS feed. In other words although written for the profession I was still hooked.

I live in Canberra an often visit the Powerhouse whenever I am in Sydney. I enjoy the museum, and it does add to my life but when I visit I feel like a visitor. There is a psychological barrier between institution and visitor. After reading this blog for a few hours I realised to my surprise that these insights into the day to day tussle of ideas that are going on behind the scenes made me feel as if I could participate in the life of the museum. A barrier was broken, not at any physical level but at a psychological level which meant that the museum became more important to me. A subtle but important shift in my support for the museum had taken place. This may not show up in visitor numbers but I know that if the bean counters want to cut funding to the museum I will be writing to my local member. Simply put because of the insights gained while reading Fresh + New I feel differently about the Powerhouse and this would manifest itself not in increased visits because I already visit the museum but during a funding crisis should the need arise.

I think it is very important that people feel that they can participate in the life of their national institutions. Web 2.0 technologies allow this. The organizations particularly those that are publicly funded, need to embrace the technology, ditch elitism, open up, share their passion and allow people in.


Follow the Sun is an exhibit of Australian travel posters between the 1930’s – 1950’s drawn from the collections of the National Library of Australia.

During these years the Australian National Travel Association (ANTA) produced travel posters as part of a marketing campaign to increase tourism.

In the 1930s, ANTA undertook major promotions of Victoria’s centenary and Australia’s 150th anniversary celebrations in Sydney. During the Second World War, ANTA closed down its overseas offices, only resuming tourism promotion in 1948. The 1956 Olympic Games were strongly promoted by ANTA, and a number of the posters they commissioned in the 1950s were entered in international competitions. From the 1960s, few new posters were commissioned and ANTA was wound up in 1974

The Art Museum Community Cataloging Project is a prototype of a possible folksonomic tool which is under development. David Bearman and Jennifer Trant in Social Terminology Enhancement through Vernacular Engagement discuss the advantages of enabling the public to ‘tag’ museum collections. Recognising that the way archivists describe collections seldom meets the on-line needs of the broad public they suggest that a solution could be ‘tagging’. Bearman and Trant suggest that the public could engage with museum content using social software applications similar to and technorati, in the process also producing communities of practice around a museum collection.

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