I organized last week a seminar on Digital challenges and photographic collections, at Nordiska museet, Stockholm, Sweden. Keynote speaker was Paula Bray, Manager Visual & Digitisation Services at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, who spoke to an audience of about 120 colleagues from the Nordic countries.
The seminar was covering issues and possibilities when collecting, preserving and disseminating photography that is digitally born or digitised, along with the challenges for cultural heritage institutions in the digital era.
Paula Bray gave two presentations, the ”Photography Collections in the Digital Environment, and ”Getting Social With Photographic Collections.”
Most cultural heritage institutions have photographic collections. Paula Bray showed how these can be instrumental when facing the necessary changes institutions are presently confronted to. Photographic collections can be used in building relationships with audiences, in moving the museum forward in social media, in getting social and allowing the audiences to contribute to and improve collection metadata. The online audiences most often express great interest in the photographic collections. Connections are made and conversations are started through them.
Paula Bray also reminded us that photographic collections management and dissemination requires strategies, that often can be challenging in the digital environment.
Interaction through and with photography collections does impact activities in cultural heritage institutions, on a general level. Lessons learned from using photography collections, are paving the way for new decisions and choices and most of all, photographs are precious tools for engagement and participation.
People from the Powerhouse Museum are already a great inspiration to museums all over the world, as they are constantly moving ahead in understanding and implementing digital, social and emerging technologies. Photography has come to play a an important role in the museum’s quest to be relevant to its audiences.
My experience is that photographic collections over the years have struggled to make their voices heard in museums, libraries and archives. But through Paula Bray’s testimony and my own observations, i now sense we are at the start of a new era for photography. We need to take this unique opportunity to position photographic collections as central in shaping the meaningful interactions with audiences, activities that help cultural heritage institutions being relevant and to fulfil their purpose.