Thursday, January 29, 2009

Changing New York: Photographs by Berenice Abbott, 1935-1938

Changing New York: Photographs by Berenice Abbott, 1935-1938

This collection is one of the many featured in the New York Public Library (NYPL) Digital Gallery. It stems from the Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs in the Humanities and Social Sciences Library. This particular collection is a division of their Changing New York archive, which has over 2,200 duplicate and variant prints. It contains 80% of the 302 photographs in the collection Changing New York Works Progress Administration/Federal Art Project by Berenice Abbott. The images are contact and enlarged prints primarily from the Depression era 1930s.

The main page explains that the collection includes images that fall outside of the project’s scope but are “presented for historical and pictorial purposes.” The digitization of the collection was possible due to support from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1991-1992. At this time a computerized inventory of the prints' tiles, dates, sizes, physical characteristics, additional inscriptions, paper weight and types, print quality and preservation condition were created. The page also describes the history of the photographer, Berenice Abbott. This gives the viewer a context in which to view the photographs. From the main page the user is able to view all of the images in the collection or search the collection using key words.

The images seem to be organized by ID numbers in ascending order. When looking at a specific image the user is able to find more images by clicking on one or more categories already listed. These are listed under the headlines Subjects and Names, Collection Guide, or Library Division. There is also an option to select “all” or “any” when searching. The items underneath each heading change from picture to picture and this gives clues to what sort of tags the pictures are given. This can be helpful if someone is looking to see photographs of related material either within the collection or outside of it without having to search the NYPL as a whole. Image details are also provided, including the image title, creator, additional names, created date, medium, specific material type, and item physical description among others. Visitors to the site can buy or print each image, which is nice for those who wish to do so. Unfortunately there is only one resizing option that enlarges the photograph but does not allow the user to zoom in at all. There are also instructions on linking or embedding the image to other sites, which is a neat feature enabling users to share photographs that they like.

Information regarding selection, curation, and how the photographs are digitized can be found on the “about” page for the NYPL Digital Collection and not on the actual collections page.

This collection strikes me as well thought out and is presented in a way that is easy to navigate and search. I think it might be useful if they added more specific tags, since only searches pertaining to the boroughs, or specific streets seem to get the best results. It might also be nice if there were an option to zoom in on the photographs.

1 comment:

  1. I worked with the NYPL on both the Berenice Abbott project and the Digital Schomburg Project while I was a student in ITP, the Interactive Telecommunications Program of New York University—circa 1997.

    Both projects were completed before resizing and zooming—as we know it now—were options. -Marilyn Nance