Digital image déjà vu

In addition to working on the Spot the Difference project, VADS also provides a growing online searchable collection of over 120,000 digital images of art and design, which are contributed by libraries, museums, and archives across the UK for non-commercial use in learning, teaching, and research.

Recently we’ve had some discussions about how to deal with a few instances where we have received multiple digital images of the same artwork, which have been photographed or scanned as part of different digitisation projects, and then contributed to the VADS image database by different people at different points in time. We looked at why these duplicates exist and whether it would be useful or not if they were hyperlinked or grouped together in some way. (This duplication also got me thinking about the Spot the Difference! project, which I’ll come on to later).

Firstly, here are the reasons why there are a handful of instances of duplication in the VADS database:

1) Multiple editions – some artworks may form part of a series of identical editions held in different collections (such as the screen prints by Tim Mara) or there may be mass produced objects such as posters or sewing patterns held in different locations.

Address your Letters Plainly', poster by Tom Eckersley, c. 1934, from Imperial War Museum

Address your Letters Plainly', poster by Tom Eckersley, c. 1934, from Tom Eckersley Archive, University of the Arts London
‘Address your Letters Plainly’, poster by Tom Eckersley, c. 1934.
Top: poster from the Imperial War Museum.
Bottom: poster from the Tom Eckersley Archive at University of the Arts London.

2) Multiple physical reproductions – as well as digital photographs or scans of an art or design object, there may be scans from analogue reproductions of that object, such as scans from old 35mm slides.

'Our Jungle Fighters Want Socks - Please Knit Now', poster by Abram Games, from Imperial War Museum    'Our Jungle Fighters Want Socks - Please Knit Now', poster by Abram Games, from Design Council Slide Collection
‘Our Jungle Fighters Want Socks – Please Knit Now’, poster by Abram Games.
Left: poster from the Imperial War Museum.
Right: 35mm slide showing the same poster, from the Design Council Slide Collection.

3) Multiple digital images – on a couple of rare occasions, VADS has received two different digital images of the same unique artwork, which have been captured as part of separate digitisation projects.

'Portrait of Carel Weight', painting by Robin Darwin, 1957, from Royal College of Art Collection    'Portrait of Carel Weight', painting by Robin Darwin, 1957, from Royal College of Art Collection
‘Portrait of Carel Weight’, painting by Robin Darwin, 1957.
Left: digital image from the Royal College of Art’s contribution to the Fine Art project.
Right: digital image from the Royal College of Art Collection.

'Flat Packed Rothman's', painting by Stephen Farthing, 1975, from Royal College of Art Collection    'Flat Packed Rothman's', painting by Stephen Farthing, 1975, from Royal College of Art Collection
‘Flat Packed Rothman’s', painting by Stephen Farthing, 1975.
Left: digital image from the Royal College of Art’s contribution to the Fine Art project.
Right: digital image from the Royal College of Art Collection.

Implications

This duplication also raises some points that are relevant to the Spot the Difference project’s investigation of visual plagiarism, referencing, and visual search technology:

  • Unintentional variation – the images of the paintings directly above show the level of unintentional variation that is introduced by the photographer even when digitising exactly the same two-dimensional artwork, such as differences in colour and background. Humans can immediately discern and disregard these aspects, but how will such variations affect the search results from a content-based image retrieval system?

  • Loss of context – the proliferation of digital versions online is further exacerbated by the fact that images are sometimes reused on multiple websites, blogs, and microblogs like tumblr. These images may appear without their original description and metadata, making it difficult to accurately attribute these visual sources and to know what their terms of use are.

These sorts of questions and issues have also been raised by art teaching staff this week during the first few interviews that we’ve been conducting for the Spot the Difference project. We’ll be updating the blog with more information about our user research over the coming months.

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