Last year we did a great exhibit called “Eye of the Beholder.” Well, not so much we, as everybody else who decided to do the really heavy lifting for us. Here’s the theory behind the exhibit: take a single photograph, ask people to do interpretation, modification, whatever they feel represents what they see in the image.
So since we want to do it again this year with a different photograph, we wanted to raise the excitement level a little and finally posted last year’s results online. Here they are. Eye of the Beholder 1. And if you’re interested in joining us for this year’s effort, our official call for submissions is also posted on our site.
But back to thinking about last year’s event, since the success of that one is what prompted us to do it again. The truth is, in terms of numbers of submissions, we didn’t get a huge number. And some of them were targeted acquisitions: we went out and contacted people and begged them to do something. But the return? Wonderful. Thoughtful, often surprising, occasionally wacky (a very good thing around here). We all had our favorites, of course, and those often were the entries that were the farthest away from our own perspective on the image. And we learned a lot of things about not just the image, but about the whole concept of describing materials for access. Some of that information we learned is in the online version of the exhibit.
But there was another effect. A slower one, one that will take a while to become quantifiable. Some of the participants–primarily faculty members–started thinking about how they could work archival photographs into their curriculum. Too often (from this archivist’s perspective, anyhow) photographs are used as illustration, not as original source documents that can provide valuable information. And an exhibit exercise like this reminds us that photos aren’t just illustrations but are documents with information, with metadata, internal evidence, and bias all their own. Just like a diary or a divorce decree or an email between friends. And because they represent so much more than just a pretty picture, they’re wonderful for use in curriculum. And even better, things like this get the students to thinking about how to use primary source materials and what could be done with them. Which is why we, the archivists, are here. To put people together with the materials they need to answer the questions they have. Sometimes that’s not very easy. But we’re working on it. And so, apparently, are our submitters. Thank you!