GRAIN is the photography hub and network for the West Midlands at the Library of Birmingham. The research and development project was funded through an award from CATH (Collaborative Arts Triple Helix) Projects, by the University of Birmingham and the University of Leicester. Through CATH, GRAIN has established a cross sector team to investigate the shifting value of photography between the archive and audience engagement with it.
Within the context of digital media, the nature of archives in the 21st century is expanding. Whilst photographs continue to be curated and commissioned by cultural organisations, living collections are also being actively produced by wider demographics and archived online in a variety of ways. The culmination of these activities is arguably represented on the one hand by the intentional ‘public archive’ and, on the other, by the unintentional, ‘people’s photographic archive’ online.
To create the demonstrator, we researched the relationships and metadata used by both archivists and social media users. We then used graph database technology to visualise the data and the connections that could be created by a larger system that could potentially drive discoverability of the content in both photography sources as well as drive connections between professional and amateur photographers.
The Mining the Archive Demonstrator explores the intentional and unintentional archives by focusing on two case studies: the previous and current sites of the Library of Birmingham, and the area of the Longbridge which used to be the home of the British Leyland automobile factory. In each case, the intentional archives will be compared to the unintentional archives posted online by individuals through sites such as Flickr and Instagram.
Through the comparison of public and personal archives, the project explores shifting notions of intentionality, value and collecting in order to establish investigate significant themes around what public collections represent in relation to the public(s) themselves, and will have benefit within debates on collection policies of cultural institutions. In addition, the collaborative project will enable a plural interpretation of the existing and imagined nature of archives in the 21st century.
Image: Francis Frith & Co, Reading Room, Birmingham Reference Library, c1890
Contact us to find out more about our work with cultural archives, photography and the digital world.
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