Online Exhibition of User-generated photographs


Proposal — Studio Practice

1. Aims

Images are powerful devices to communicate and inform. Recent developments in digital photography and photo sharing online are changing the dynamics of how images are created and distributed, with control shifting from elite professional organisations to any individual with a camera in their phone and access to Flickr.

November 13, 2007 saw the two-billionth image uploaded to Flickr ( Some 4,000 images are uploaded in a minute, and the rate appears to be increasing. With so many images, how do viewers find the images that are of interest to them? In the last month, 2.2 million images on Flickr were geotagged (by adding the latitude, longitude and possibly altitude at which the image was taken to the metadata included with digital image files).

I have been involved with emerging media, communication and information technologies for 35 years through many innovative projects (see my Resume for details). Of particular interest to this proposal are: Interactive Multimedia’s Peacekeeping Virtual exhibition CD ROM for the Australian War Memorial; its involvement with virtual environments created on CD ROM for Investigating Lake Iluka, Exploring the Nardoo, and the Australia on CD program’s Voices from a War; content management of Australia’s Cultural Network for the Department of Communication, Information Technology and the Arts; work on Digital Learning Communities with the University of Canberra for a Carrick Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education project; and my GPSMac activities [].

I see the growth of user-generated geotagged images as an exciting development offering new opportunities to create for users online experiences of events and places unlike any previously available through print, theatre, galleries, the electronic media, CD ROMs or the internet.

My aim in this proposed project is to develop techniques that will make it easy for users to gather geotagged images relating to a particular place or event from the Web and navigate through them, seeing the images in relation to each other on the screen as they were when taken.

While there are some examples of navigating images online by location (,, Google Earth), there are still great opportunities to improve the way images are sourced, geotagged, organised and presented to the user. Users also need improved tools to navigate effectively through these novel representations of events and places.

The Studio Practice component would consist of researching and developing techniques and processes to source, organise (in time and space) and present user-generated images. This would need to cover history of the sharing and use of user-created images, ethics and the ethical issues of using other people's images, legal issues (of ownership, responsibility, reuse, sampling, and so on), as well as technical issues (geocoding or geotagging, sourcing, storage, retrieval, display, resolution, movement) and techniques (stitching, sampling, merging images, presentation and navigation).

Current geotagging techniques will need to the improved to extend the limited amount of metadata now used (latitude, longitude, possibly altitude) to cover such data as azimuth, elevation, tilt, angle of view, aspect ratio, zoom, depth of field and so on. Over the next few years it is unlikely that this data will be attached to an image as it is captured, so methods of deriving the information necessary to precisely locate an existing image in three dimensional space (and time) in relation to other images will need to be defined and developed as a part of the Studio Practice. This may be based on Microsoft’s Photosynth ( or similar technologies, but extended with, for example, additional functionality to provide for filtering by keyword, by time, or by season.

An online exhibition of geolocated user-generated images on a subject like the London train bombings or the Paris riots will be produced using the tools, techniques and processes developed during the Studio Practice.

An Exegesis will document the Studio Practice. It will cover the history of user-generated images, how to source and display the images, how to prepare a virtual gallery, and how users navigate a virtual exhibition. It will define how new social networking practices challenge traditional notions of ownership, copyright, reuse and so on, and discuss how these practices, combined with the emerging capabilities of the internet, digital photography, GPS devices and bandwidth, provide new opportunities to share and experience images.

2. Approach

Since 2000 users of the World Wide Web have become contributors. Social networking has taken off with people all over the world blogging, contributing to wikis, and sharing their lives through MySpace and other sites: the Read/Write Web. Photosharing sites like Flickr, Photobucket, SmugMug and Panoramio allow users to make their photographs public, but are limited in how visitors can combine photographs of particular places or events from different contributors together. My approach is to “harvest” user-generated images around a particular theme, event or place from right around the World Wide Web, not limited to the restrictions of any particular site, and to develop unique (and better) ways for visitors to experience the gathered images through an online gallery or exhibition.

Like a lot of the Web, current presentation techniques for photographs in context (for example Google Earth, Panoramio and Flickr) are limited to the ubiquitous two dimensional document metaphor. I will develop techniques that place images in a screen-based representation of three dimensional space and give visitors the tools to travel around the space in place and time.

The tools, techniques and processes to achieve this are not yet available, at least not in a usable format. I will research this emerging field more thoroughly to determine exactly what more is needed to accomplish the online gallery. Work is being done in Asia, Europe, the US and here in Australia on various aspects of the area I want to explore, and it is my intention to interact with (and possibly visit) developers and practitioners to learn and collaborate.

I will need to refine existing and possibly develop new techniques to harvest photographs from the Web that match required criteria, using meta search tools based on, for example, Google and FAST tool .

Additional metadata will have to be derived and added to harvested photographs to allow them to be exhibited in relation to one another in space and time. This additional metadata goes beyond what is usually now available with images harvested from the Web, and it will take some time to determine the set of metadata required to realise an online exhibition.

An interface that allows online users to navigate through images easily and meaningfully must be developed. This will be derived from existing work begun by Apple Computer (in its HotSauce project, and through the use of Core graphics) and Microsoft (with its Sea Dragon and Photosynth technologies). I will also employ other techniques to make panoramas and display multiple images simultaneously.

Another important part of the approach is to use social software to develop a community of contributors and visitors, to determine their responses to the exhibition and their views on the context in which it has been presented.

3. Contextual precedents

Digital photography, social software and sharing, increased bandwidth, emerging technologies of the internet, and more powerful information and communications technologies provide the wider context within which this program will evolve. Also to be considered is the impact peer-to-peer file sharing and other technologies is having on attitudes to copyright around the world (at least among the internet-savvy). Originally passive print, sound and visual media consumers are becoming active bloggers, podcasters and photo-sharers.

Younger people are becoming more visually literate. This program will take the images they share, and provide them with a richer environment within which to explore their own and others’ photographs.

Current online methods to present photographs in context (not just place, space and time, but more abstract dimensions like interests, culture, popularity, author, and so on) are emerging. Potentially, online technologies allow infinitely extended space (and time) to display, experience and discuss photography, unlike traditional physical gallery installations that aren’t appropriate to exhibit burgeoning work.

Specific examples of work this project would build on are:

•Artist Musaki Fujihata [];

•Academic and artist Michael Naimark [];

•Microsoft Live Labs’ Photosynth [];

•Apple Computer’s HotSauce (originally called Project X), and Core Graphics.