Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Tom Wright Photograph Collection

The photographs in the collection are drawn from the Tom Wright photography collection at the Center for American History at the University of Texas. Wright was the official photographer for the Who from 1967 until the band's 1991 farewell tour. The TARO finding aid for the physical collection held at CAH is offered online in conjunction with the digital collection, but there is no specific mention of how the 98 photographs offered online were selected out of what appear based on the TARO aid to have been many, many more in the physical collection. Additionally, the TARO aid lists that there are cds, tapes, and video in the physical collection that Wright donated to CAH, but none of these are represented in the digital collection, with no mention of why. In general, there is very little curatorial information about the digital collection, other than the one or two sentences below the link to it from the CAH digital collections page. The TARO aid is very helpful, offering a biographical sketch of Wright, context about the collection, a really detail items list, and so on, but none of this useful information is related back to the digital offerings, and this represents a major problem of this collection.

As stated above, any metadata a user would want about the overall collection would have to be deduced from the TARO aid to the physical collection, which is linked in a digital format to the digital photo collection. From my quick skim-through, this was not an easy task. It is easy to get general background that one can relate to what one sees in the digital collection, but it is not easy to find out much about the individual objects represented. In terms of object-level metadata, some is offered, but not terribly much compared to other collections we have looked at. In the collection, the images appear as thumbnails with the image title beneath (I'm assuming it is the title the photographer assigned to the image, though this is not made explicitly clear). When the user clicks a thumbnail, a new window opens with a larger version of the image and some metadata appears at the right hand side. The fields represented are: title, date, creator (Tom Wright for all of these), source within the CAH's collections (Tom Wright papers), publisher (CAH), rights information, location in which the image can be found in the physical collection, identifier (a combo of letters and numbers the meaning of which is not immediately apparent to me), the physical format of the image (Print, 5X7 in, for example), and a subject heading which is a link that takes the user to all of the CAH digital images for that subject title (in this case, "rock and roll bands"). There is really no metadata for the individual digital object, such as scanner used, update information, date scanned, etc.

The images do not blow up very big and have a huge watermark across them that makes some of them quite difficult even to view, let alone try to use. That's a shame because some of them are really great. When I saved one to my desktop to try to import it into this post, it saved as a GIF, though since there is no metadata for the digital object, I don't know if that was a decision my computer or browser made, or if that is the format I am looking at when I view the digital object. There would be no way to authenticate anything that has been done to the images, as there is no data offered on scanning, uploading, or updating from the CAH's end. There is a stable identifier, as the NISO guidelines call for, but the convention is not explained anywhere, making it sort of useless.

I think this is probably only useful for casual browsing by people who are interested in the Who or maybe this particular photographer. A scholar could maybe use it to see if the images offered online make her or him interested enough in the collection to warrant a trip to the CAH to view the physical collection, but the huge watermark and limited zoom capability preclude any from-home art/photography history kind of scholarship. In sum, I believe the purpose of digitizing these photos was to serve as extended advertisement for the physical collection.

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