Aaah, Metadata: the word we use to describe the way we categorize information on a computer. Metadata can be a title, date or file type. It can be information that the computer automatically creates and attaches to a file every time a change is made. But when librarians talk about metadata, they mean words that they assign to a filing index to describe its contents so that it can be easily found later.
In a meeting with other archivists and librarians at work, the discussion about metadata shifted from objects, people, and places to something a little more abstract. Can you index emotion?
There are so many words in the English language that are emotionally charged. Sadness, happiness, love, hate, courage, fear. And each word has its own nuances and relations. For example, depression and mourning are variations of sadness, but both mean something completely different. The problem here lies in a person’s interpretation of an emotion. If you look at a picture of someone smiling, one person might call it happy while another might see ecstasy, and a third indifference. The differences in perception do not mean that one description is wrong and the other is correct, but it does defeat the purpose. If metadata exists to make digital files easier to identify and retrieve, information that is relative to the user can only lead to confusing records.
So while it’s entirely possible to turn emotion into keywords, they do not make a feasible method of categorization. I think that using such strong, personal words in this way deprives them of their meaning and takes the integrity from the assets they are trying to describe.
I saw “The Artist” (2011) in early December, and as I didn’t start this blog until January, I wasn’t planning on writing about it until I saw it again. You see, I believe that its better to write a review after a fresh viewing rather than as a memory of what you once saw, because memories can be selective. After last night’s Academy Awards ended with “The Artist” picking up 5 Oscars, including Best Picture, I feel that I can relay some of my thoughts on the film.
“The Artist” is notable for a number of reasons: its a black and white silent film staring foreign actors and shown in a 1:37 aspect ratio. All of these things go against what Hollywood has been purporting for decades: that the public will only see a film that is in color, stereo, wide-screen, and staring a big named American actor. There’s a long history as to how and why these thoughts came to dominate, but I’ll just summarize it as being that people only want what is new and in drawing people away from their televisions and into the cinemas they need to be bombarded by as much technological advancement as we can stuff into it. The latest technological invasion in the movies is a re-hash of that 60s miracle – 3D.
“The Artist” defied the current Hollywood standard, proving that a good movie is not dependent on the latest and greatest. It just needs to have a good story that is told well. My greatest hope is that people who see this film with an open mind will become interested in seeing other silent films. There are so many great movies from the early days of cinema that should be watched and enjoyed.
The bad thing about being home sick is that you’re sick. The good thing about being home sick is the amount of work you can get done on incredibly time-consuming tedious low impact projects like my family photo project (mentioned briefly here and here).
My family photo project came about after I inherited my grandma and grandpa Schultz’s photographs, which included their parents photographs. Boxes of photographs and paperwork arrived with no semblance of order or content: maternal mixed with paternal, 1850s with 1950s. To make matters worse, little or no identifying information led to squinting at faces and trying to make an educated guess as to who they might be. I decided that the best way to tackle the mound of boxes was to jump in head first – digitize.
Using a fairly standard Hewlett-Packard commercial scanner, I set about turning the family photos into digital jpeg files. No, they’re not the stellar quality of a professional operation (like this one), but they’re quantifiable and give me the opportunity to email them to family with the question “who the heck are these people?” For example, this photograph of beer loving men remains unidentified. Just based on the information I could gather from the rest of the collection, I’m guessing these men are probably part of the Bast family (any leads would be greatly appreciated). The other advantage to digitizing first is that its quite easy to go back and add names to a file as you discover them later.
After digitizing, I organized them to the best of my ability by decade for the 1950s to 200os. Prior to 1950, photos were arranged by family. The decision to do this was made partially because of the amount of pictures from the time period and because my grandparents married in the 50s. Using acid free paper, photo corners, gel pens, and sheet protectors I created pages of photos and wrote down any identifying information I knew. This is partially for my own knowledge, and so that anyone in the future can use what I’ve been able to discover about the pictures. The acid free supplies should prevent any undue deterioration of the photographs and definitely provide better housing than old cardboard boxes under a bed.
90% of my pictures have a notation like this on the back. What the hell happened to you, Kodak?
When you hear the name Kodak your thoughts immediately go to photo albums and home movies. As well it should! Though there were many different companies that participated in the birth of photography and film, Kodak was the one that entered the public conscience. In fact, it became so ubiquitous that the brand itself was used as a verb, like how today any internet search is “Googling.” While researching for my master’s degree, I regularly came across mentions of figures such as the Princess of Wales “Kodaking” in the 1900s. Its almost amazing to think that this giant is on the verge of bankruptcy.
Sorting through my family’s collections, my thoughts went to what photography means to a genealogist. Every image holds a wealth of knowledge – faces, locations, relationships. Maybe you’ll be lucky and someone will have written a name, place, or event on the back side. These snippets can become threads, and those threads all contribute to the greater story of a family’s history. Moving images of 8mm home movies give the opportunity to see those relationships and personalities in action.
Today’s changing technology hasn’t changed the importance of images, only transformed the way we access them. Its a shame that Kodak management didn’t quite embrace that fact and stood still in comfort, instead of embracing innovation. I do have some hope for the future of the company. The fact that they invented the digital camera does show that invention and improvement are still one of Kodak’s assets, they only need leadership that will exploit this in the ways that George Eastman did, instead of licensing or selling them off.