A brief piggy-back post, touting the depths of Metropolitan Museum of Art’s online collections. Aside from his Farm Security Administration photographs held at the Library of Congress, the archive of American Photographer, Walker Evans (1903-1975) is housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and accessible via the online collections. Walker Evans not only photo-documented American life, and often plight, resulting in heightened awareness of economic conditions and urging social change; he did it poetically. When looking through 8,000+ of Evan’s photography hosted by the Met, his mastery of portraiture strikes me the most. His profound ability to capture deep meaning or mystery in just a glance, reveal or conceal clandestine thoughts by way of light and shadow, or change sentiment with a tilt of the camera angle to artfully capture bone structure. It is no wonder he was also able to capture this in his self-portraits. If these selfies don’t melt your heart, you should check your pulse. You should also check out all of his photography, as it is a celebrated, dreamy documentation at America(ns): from rural village(r)s to New York City urban(ites) sights. I have a particular fondness for a collection of ‘instant print‘ Polaroids taken in the last years of his life.
Monthly Archives: July 2013
An important distinction between digital collections of museum, libraries, and archives: no purchase buttons, shopping carts, or Paypal options. This sacred lack of e-commerce allows me to safely view the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 2009, the renowned Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection was donated to the Costume Institute at the Met, resulting in a collection of over 35,000 costumes and accessories, spanning 700 years and five continents. Due to delicate fabrics, the collection is not on permanent public view. Although here are special exhibitions including costume materials. You’ll probably remember the kerfuffle surrounding the “PUNK Chaos to Couture” opening gala, where celebrities attended in cringe-worthy, less-than-punky attire. There is a strong representation of work from famous fashion designers who impacted trends in style of dress. To mention a few: House of Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, House of Chanel, Paul Poiret, Madeleine Vionne, House of Balenciaga, and last but not least my current obsession of platform sandals of the late 1930’s by Steven Arpad, Salvatore Ferragamo, and others.
The Met’s Costume Institute offers a massive collection of apparel, and thus, a valuable visual resource often used when researching historical fashions. When working reference, I’ve recommended this resource to students many times. The Met provides world-wide free access to the Costume Institute through this digital collection. The Berg Fashion Library aggregates its digital collection from several publicly accessible online collections (incl. the Met’s) then provides consolidated access in one location, but for a fee. Not to discredit the Berg Fashion Library as it offers other research sources and interactive features, as well as a gracious staff at their Bedford Square location in London (where I visited last summer). If searching the internet isn’t so off-putting, there are many museums around the world hosting online costume collections.
Unfortunately, the Met’s online collection interface is not all a bed of chiffon. In 2011 the Met’s website underwent major redesign, including revamping the online collection. While this undertaking was aimed at creating an easier navigation of total online collection (340,000 items), there are still a few tweaks that could improve a researcher’s experience. It’s not just me being critical, others have noticed this too. The current search feature is confusing and often causes redundant searches in order to refine results. Only keyword search is offered in combination with tabs to narrow results by: who, what, where, and when. Each of these tabs then provides hyper-linked categories to whittle until you reach what the desired items. The problems I encountered with this are having to go repeat the initial query steps each time to find the desired section of items. An advanced search feature would be ideal to query within the each of the ‘who, what, when, and where’ sections simultaneously (are you listening Met IT/Programmer Gods?). Perhaps the most glaring obstruction to research is the ‘when’ options. Dates are grouped by century only where as fickle fashion is changing by the day. Decade increments for the 20th century at least would be helpful, a custom date range even more so.
The images selected here in no way represent the extravagant floor-length evening dresses fit for royalty to be found in the Costume Institute at the Met, rather items I could easily see myself in. Current wardrobe trends: minimalist construction, block colors, platform shoes, and something African (which isn’t part of the Met’s Costume Institute, but it is a part of mine). If only there was a purchase icon for this a-bit-goth, 1937 cape, this Frankenstein would be Puttin’ on the Ritz.
No copyright restrictions, no watermarks, and hassle-free high quality downloadable images – No problem! When dealing with museum collections online: Yeah right, one (digital archive enthusiast) might say.
Focusing on Netherlands history, from the medieval era to present day, Dutch artists and masterpieces dominate the collection. Currently there are 125k high resolution images (2500 x 2500 pixels, 300 dpi) which allows close inspection of cracks, brush strokes, and other signs of age and imperfections that can illuminate the lifespan and history of a piece of art (click on images for resolution gratification). AND, of course reproductions.
Not only are high resolution downloads available, the user interface is easy and user-friendly. If an item has copyright restrictions, it can’t be downloaded: simple. But the Rijksmuseum doesn’t stop at providing free access to images, they encourage creative use of artworks. The Rijksstudio gives users the ability to add items (or snippets of images) to various user created sets. Images can be then be purchased in several formats: poster, canvas, aluminum, or Plexiglas.
However, images are at such a quality users are encouraged to use artwork at their own creative whims and the upload re-works to share with other users. Still life tattoo, anyone? A masterpiece for your milk carton? User sets can be made public which can be useful in browsing the collection to see others’ created sets. This can be helpful since although the site can be viewed in English, only the metadata field titles are translated, not the content of those fields. Meaning, keyword searches are more fruitful when translated in Dutch. For me, I found it extremely helpful to have two Google Translate open: one for English to Dutch / the other for Dutch to English for title and description translation.While this is an extra step and could be an annoyance for some, being overly catered to as an English speaker I found it a good exercise in accommodating another language. And, I even learned a few new words: canal – kanaal, summer – zomer, winter – winter.
While extensive metadata fields, often linking to related objects, are provided for each record, the coolest feature (to me) is search-ability by color. When looking at each image, a color palate is displayed for that image which allows users to click on a specific color which then yields all other items in the collection with that color. Color classification and search-ability adds to the usability of the Rijksmuseum collection as a visual resource for the arts. The generosity of Rijksmuseum to provide high quality, free images of artworks in an innovative interface might just redefine the phrase: Going Dutch.