June 2008 vol.5, no.3

Home for Images, The newsletter of the VRA

Notes from the President
Allan T. Kohl (Minneapolis College of Art & Design)
President, Visual Resources Association

Although it may seem that we have barely recovered from Conference 26 in San Diego, planning is already well under way for the next three years: Toronto (March 18-22, 2009), Atlanta (March dates TBA, 2010), and the Minneapolis joint conference with ARLIS/NA (March 24-28, 2011).

There are many aspects of conference planning about which I have to admit I was quite clueless before being elected to the Board. Recently, as I studied carefully the post-conference evaluation surveys from the past two years, it occurred to me that many of my fellow attendees probably don’t understand why certain things are done in certain ways. To give you a clearer idea of the overall planning process, I thought that it might be useful to take you “behind the scenes” in some of the critical aspects: selecting a Conference Location; shaping the Conference Schedule; determining Conference Costs; and putting together a Conference Program.

Conference Location involves two main elements: first is the selection of a host city; next comes the selection of a conference hotel.

Selection of a host city. This choice must be made two to three years in advance in order to secure a suitable hotel and provide time for the Board and the local committee to make necessary arrangements. We look for a balanced combination of relative affordability, good “lift” (convenient nationwide and international air connections), and an appealing local environment including transit options, restaurants, and cultural attractions such as museums and distinctive architecture.

In selecting host cities, the Board has attempted to strike a balance in which, while acknowledging that a majority of our members are based in the eastern United States, we rotate conference locations among different regions: Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, Texas & Southwest, California, Northwest.

From the founding of the Association through 2001, we always met in conjunction with College Art Association in the host city of their choice. CAA often chose high-priced “Category A” cities (based on population, travel connections, hotel options, costs, and cultural attractions) such as New York City, Boston, and Los Angeles. When we began meeting on our own, VRA chose less expensive “Category B” cities such as Kansas City and San Diego. We could further reduce costs by holding conferences in “Category B-” cities; examples of these include Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis, Milwaukee, or Richmond.

Another critical factor in our selection of a host city is the commitment and strength of the local Chapter in terms of both numbers and members who are active at the national level. Local committees play an important role in planning local arrangements, providing volunteer labor, making contacts with potential speakers, gathering maps and brochures, and acting as guides to area attractions.

Selection of a conference hotel. Unlike real estate sales (in which location is supposed to be everything), we have to consider many additional factors. Chief among these are: hotel availability on our first choice of dates within our calendar “window;” number of rooms available for our “room block;” room price; adequate meeting facilities; technical infrastructure; and proximity of the hotel to restaurants and cultural attractions in our host city.

In regard to Conference Schedule, members’ main concerns have been about the overall length of the conference and its timing within the calendar year.

Over the course of 26 years, the conference has grown incrementally from a two-day affiliated society schedule to five full days of events. Given the inevitability of rising costs (and the reported decline – or complete lack -- of many members’ professional development support from their employers), now is probably an opportune time to consider scaling the conference schedule back to four full days. This possibility will be explored in the pending negotiations with candidate hotels for Atlanta (2010). However, hotel contracts are already in place for Toronto (2009) and Minneapolis (2011).

We can, nonetheless, still fine tune the schedule. For the Toronto conference, we will try to avoid scheduling any major events past noon on Sunday, allowing most attendees to return home without missing work on Monday morning (or incurring an extra night’s hotel stay). For the Atlanta conference, we will try to conclude all major events on Saturday evening.

When meeting on our own, the VRA has opted for mid-March as its conference “window,” splitting the difference between CAA in February and ARLIS/NA in April/early May (while a number of our attendees also participate in one or both of these other conferences, over 60% attend only VRA). We avoid Easter weekend at either end of our conference, and also try (not always successfully) to avoid Palm Sunday and Passover as well. Trying to mesh the conference with spring break is futile, as there is no consistency among schools.

We have considered, but rejected, holding the conference over the summer (the 10-week window from the beginning of June to mid-August is filled with family vacations, weddings, graduations; we’d hit many host cities at the height of tourist season, to say nothing of the increasing difficulty of summer air travel; and many of our members are employed only during the academic year). Early fall seems to be the busiest time of the year for those who work in colleges and universities, while November and December would take us into the holiday season.

Conference Costs are among the most sensitive concerns for many members, as they are for the Board, which must carefully balance overall conference income and expenses. Rising conference costs affect both the Association and its individual members, along with their institutions and employers. We have not increased registration fees for several years because airfares and hotel room rates have already become difficult for some members to afford.

Before my election, I didn’t know a lot about how our hotel contracts worked. While the following information may not ease the sticker shock or lower anyone’s expenses, it may help you to understand why certain decisions are made. Each party gets something from the contract. The Association gets a guaranteed number of rooms over an agreed-upon sequence of dates at a locked-in rate; the hotel gives up its flexibility to raise rates in exchange for an occupancy commitment. This is our “room block,” and we are expected to meet (“pick-up”) at least 80-85% of our commitment over the course of the conference week.

The hotel also anticipates income from its catering operation, known as “F&B” (Food and Beverage services). Our hotel contract typically includes an “F&B minimum,” which covers a combination of catered events. In San Diego, we met our F&B minimum by including the cost of the Membership Dinner, the New Members Breakfast, the Leadership Luncheon, the continental breakfast provided during the Annual Business Meeting, and sponsored coffee breaks in the overall conference budget.

The payback is that most contracts give the Association free use of major conference facilities as long as we meet our “room block pick-up” and “F&B minimum.” This means that rentals and set-up fees are waived for our use of the large ballroom for “all-conference” events; session halls; 5-6 meeting rooms for committees, chapters, and special interest and affinity groups; secure rooms for the VRAffle and registration supplies; and the networked registration area. However, if a significant number of attendees choose to stay at cheaper hotels nearby, or if we were to “skip the fancy dinner,” the Association could be on the hook for thousands of dollars in facility rental and set-up charges. So it’s a delicate balancing act all around, every year.

The design of a Conference Program so as to provide the greatest benefits to the greatest number of attendees is in many ways the greatest challenge faced by conference planners, and particularly by the Vice President for Conference Program. As the feedback from post-conference surveys has indicated, what some members say they want directly contradicts the wishes of others. While some complain about “lightly scheduled” days, others ask for more opportunities to visit local museums and similar cultural attractions without missing important sessions. Where some want lots of sessions from which to select, others regret being able to choose only one of two concurrent sessions, both of which they find attractive. Some older members feel that session content sometimes seems repetitive from one year to the next, and say that their greatest benefit comes from networking, strategizing, and problem-solving on a personal level with their peers. But new members, and younger professionals attending their first conference, might be learning about important issues for the first time.

Nearly all survey respondents – from first-timers to “Silver Foxes” -- felt that “events that bring members together” socially as well as professionally are crucial to the success of each conference. In 2002 we held a joint conference with ARLIS/NA, and will do so again in 2011. The initial planning process has reminded us of the key conference events which have evolved over the years into the true high points of our life as an Association: the Members Dinner, Awards Ceremony, and Keynote Speaker; the Tansey Event (which has morphed from dinner for a few to an entertainment evening for a larger number, and will doubtless continue to evolve); the VRAffle. None of these events were part of our earliest conferences (the full programs are all available for study on the VRAWEB under “Conferences – Past”). Other recent additions such as the Birds-of-a-Feather affinity group lunches and Special Interest Groups seem also to be growing into essential program elements. We are striving to balance the flow of information from within the organization, with our members educating and informing their colleagues about their projects and initiatives, while bringing to our collective attention voices from outside our organization, speakers whose perspectives may complement, or differ from, our own. As always, we try to provide for the needs of those who may be relatively new to the profession, while inspiring and supporting those who have witnessed many years of growth and change in the visual resources environment.

In the end, Conference Program is the planning area which members have the most direct input in shaping. For Conference 27 in Toronto to be successful, a critical number of you must be willing to undertake the work of proposing, organizing, and moderating sessions, workshops, and other events. Vice President for Conference Program Vickie O’Riordan will soon be issuing the annual call for session proposals. Please consider responding with a proposal, whether you wish to address one of the frequently-requested topics from the surveys or prefer to pursue another topic of your own particular interest and expertise. Helping to build upon our strengths, while changing for the better what needs changing, is a demanding but satisfying task, one in which you are all invited to participate.

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Relaunch of Online Resource Provides Unique Access to Visual Arts Collections
By Amy Robinson (Visual Arts Data Service)

Students and academics looking for visual arts images now have online access to a stunning collection of over 100,000 images with the launch of www.vads.ac.uk. The website has been developed by VADS (the Visual Arts Data Service) which re-branded and re-launched itself earlier this month and contains collections as diverse as the National Inventory of Continental European Paintings, the Woolmark Company Archive, and the Central Saint Martins Museum and Study Collection.

VADS has been providing services to the academic community for some 11 years and has built up an impressive portfolio of visual art collections. The image resources are free and copyright cleared for use in UK Higher and Further Education, providing a valuable resource to students and academics which can be incorporated into lectures, seminar presentations and essays.

VADS is continuously adding to its catalogue and just this year has added a collection of photographs from the East End archival project which includes 500 images of the Spitalfields area from the 1970s to the 1990s - a period of rapid social and physical change; furniture from the Frederick Parker Chair Collection which demonstrate 350 years of British chair design and manufacture; as well as the archive of post-war British sculptor Peter King.

Other memorable collections available online through the site are 'Spanish Civil War Posters', 'Concise Art', and 'Posters of Conflict' all from the Imperial War Museum, and the Design Council Archives and Slide Collection from University of Brighton and Manchester Metropolitan University respectively.

In addition to providing and building on its online visual arts resource, VADS also offers expert guidance and help for digital projects in arts education. The expert VADS team also offers web development and hosting services for visual arts organisations and projects.

Press contact: Amy Robinson at VADS on 01252 892723 or amy@vads.ac.uk

Notes to editors
VADS is based within the University College for the Creative Arts at Farnham.

As part of its commitment to visual arts education, the VADS team commissioned a lecturer from the Advertising and Brand Communication Course at the University College for the Creative Arts to work with students to develop the new VADS branding. The final branding designs that have been used on the website and in VADS publicity material were developed by second year Graphic Communication student Dan Mitchell.

Intellectual Property Rights News
Compiled by Jen Green (Massachusetts College of Art and Design)
Intellectual Property Rights Committee

Who Owns this Image?
Art, Access and the Public Domain after Bridgeman v. Corel
Report by Gretchen Wagner, General Counsel of ARTstor

On April 29th, the College Art Association, the New York City Bar Association Art Law Committee, ARTstor, Creative Commons, and Art Resource co-sponsored an event entitled “Who Owns this Image? Art, Access and the Public Domain after Bridgeman v. Corel.” The event included an afternoon symposium, with about 40 participants, and an evening panel session, with about 400 people in attendance. The following is a brief report on these events.

The afternoon symposium included representatives from a wide range of sectors and interests, including: Judge Lewis Kaplan (the judge from the federal district court for the Southern District of New York, who wrote the Bridgeman decision); Judge Pierre Leval (from the Federal Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit); John Ashley from the Copyright office; representatives of museums and archives (including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian, the Frick Collection, the New York Public Library, the National Gallery of Art, and the J. Paul Getty Trust); leading copyright scholars (professors Jane Ginsburg, Rebecca Tushnet, and Kenneth Crews, as well as William Patry (counsel for Google and copyright scholar) and Peter Hirtle); legal practitioners; photographers and their representatives (Malcolm Varon, Philip de Bay, and Theodore Feder); art publishers; representatives of commercial entities (such as Time and the New York Times); and scholars and artists.

The aim of the session was to explore the disconnect between the Bridgeman v. Corel decision and current practices among many museums, archives and photographers who claim copyright in photographs of two-dimensional works. Participants explored both the legal foundation for Bridgeman, as well as the implications of assertions of copyright in works arguably in the public domain.

Afternoon Symposium

The afternoon session started with four short presentations: Jeff Cunard of Debevoise & Plimpton discussed the Bridgeman decision, and suggested why it was correctly decided. Ted Feder of Art Resource, a photostock agency, argued why Bridgeman was incorrectly decided. Eve Sinaiko and Gretchen Wagner then discussed the implications of licensing images that reproduce two-dimensional works, the impacts of such practices on publishing in the arts, and measures taken to date to address such impacts.

After the presentations, symposium participants separated into five smaller discussion groups, which aimed to provide for more informal explorations of the issues. The group then reconvened as a whole, and discussed briefly the issues raised in the smaller groups.

The groups reported that there were lively discussions of whether Bridgeman was correctly decided. Some felt that, given the three-dimensional elements in many paintings and other two-dimensional works, decisions made by photographers on how to capture those elements, as well as choices in lighting, exposure, etc. were sufficiently creative to be copyrightable. Others felt that such decisions were much closer to “the sweat of the brow” and, while being highly technical and requiring significant expertise, were not sufficiently creative in and of themselves to merit protection under copyright.

One of the issues explored was whether the choices made by photographers – even if creative – were sufficiently separate from the underlying work to give the photographers a separate copyright in the photograph. In other words, if you stripped out the arguably creative elements of the photographer – the choice of highlighting the craquelature or the lighting or exposure – from the underlying work, what would you be left with? And if you couldn’t separate those elements from the underlying work, should they merit copyright protection? Were they sufficiently de minimus as to not merit being copyrightable?

Participants also discussed the implications of asserting creativity when the creative elements in photographs are dependent on technology, both in terms of the camera and increasingly applications like Photoshop, and also in terms of their display. One of the more interesting questions was what happens if you have arguably creative elements in a photograph that are then muted or disappear altogether when they are shown over the internet, or scanned in a copier.

Finally, participants focused on the impacts of current licensing practices on art publishing, which has seen a significant decline in the number of images appearing in journals and other publications, as well as a decline in the overall number of publications in the arts, as a result of permissions costs.

It was clear that there was no consensus on any of the issues discussed.

Evening Panel

The evening panel discussion was equally lively. Unfortunately, Judge Posner was unable to attend as originally scheduled, but Judge Kaplan graciously agreed to step in as a replacement. The panelists included: Judge Kaplan; Theodore Feder; Christopher Lyon (of Prestel Publishing); Maureen Whalen (of the Getty); and William Patry (of Google, as noted above). The session was moderated by Virginia Rutledge (of Creative Commons and chair of the NYC Bar Association Art Law Committee).

Rebecca Tushnet has provided an excellent synopsis of the evening session, available at www.tushnet.blogspot.com. The following is a more abbreviated version:

Judge Kaplan discussed the basis for his decision. He noted that there were three ways in which a photograph could be original: originality of rendition (choice of lighting, exposure, filters, developing techniques); originality of timing (choice of dumb luck about the second that the photographer takes the photograph); or originality of composition. With respect to photographs of works aimed at reproducing the underlying two-dimensional work as accurately as possible, Judge Kaplan said that the only originality could be in the rendition. He felt that the choices made in documenting or representing that underlying work were closer to “sweat of the brow” (meaning highly technical, but more mechanical) than creative.

Theodore Feder, from Art Resource, argued that Bridgeman was decided inappropriately because the lawyer for the plaintiff presented the plaintiff’s case so poorly. He also said that Bridgeman was only a district court decision, and an outlier from the norm. He further noted that museums use contracts to regulate the use of images, which are obviously separate from copyright.

Christopher Lyon, Executive Editor for Prestel Publishing, described what publishers look for when they seek photographs of art works. He noted how publishers seek photographs that replicate as faithfully as possible the underlying works, how publishers try to eliminate any creative elements introduced by photographers, and that, from the publisher’s perspective, to the extent that the photographer adds any creative elements, the photograph is compromised.

Maureen Whalen from the Getty described how museums are struggling to arrive at policies around the licensing of images, particularly images of public domain works, and that there were competing aims within these institutions of earning revenues or recouping their costs in making the works available, as well as in fulfilling their public mandate of making their collections more broadly accessible. She asked whether museums should be the ones to control how images of works in their collections are used, and that perhaps they should let images of such works appear in a variety of uses, including commercial products. She noted that if someone used a photograph of one of the Getty’s public domain works, you would not receive a cease and desist letter from her.

William Patry of Google stated that he felt that Bridgeman was a standard application of the law that followed the Supreme Court’s decision in Feist, and not an outlier. He also said that most lawyers he talked to felt that Bridgeman was correctly decided. He further asked why copyright mattered to photographers, and suggested that because it requires so little creativity to copyright a photograph, copyright should not be the measure of a photographer’s worth or the worth of a photograph.

Virginia Rutledge asked the question: “If I make a really excellent photograph of a Mona Lisa, and you use the photograph in your book, but the copier strips out the original elements, have I infringed?” The answer by Judge Kaplan and William Patry was no, that the original contribution of the photographer was gone. Maureen Whalen agreed with them. Theodore Feder argued that, as a matter of public policy, the ability to use photographs without permission would put photographers and photo stock businesses such as his out of business, which is a bad result. Christopher Lyon argued that there was no denying that there was skill involved by the photographers in making the photographs, and that some people would still pay for that skill and the high quality of such photographs, but that such skill in and of itself should not merit copyright protection.

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Digital Scene and Heard
Edited by Jacquelyn Erdman (Florida Atlantic University)
Digital Initiatives Advisory Group

Guest Editor Elizabeth Meyers (Visual Resources Librarian at the University of Cincinnati)

Photosynth and Deep Zoom

Did you watch the Photosynth (http://labs.live.com/photosynth) presentation from the Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) conference, posted on the VRA liserv by Alex Nichols in June 2007? The presentation, given by Photosynth’s architect Blaise Aguera y Arcas is titled “Blaise Aguera y Arcas Jaw-dropping Photosynth Demo” (http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/129), and jaw-dropping it is. Eileen Fry wrote on the VRA-L, “What impresses me the most is that it's so intuitive. Virtually no language or text needed, and the graphics are appealing and draw you into exploring them . . . Can you imagine Versailles in Photosynth, or Teotihuacan or Venice? Can you imagine this coming up as an option in Wikipedia? Can you imagine taking a virtual stroll around a museum this way?”

Photosynth is a system for interactively viewing large collections of images in a variety of ways. Part slide show part 3-D environment, when Photosynth is released to the public it could enable us to present and view 3-D objects in a new way. Its application would be especially useful for viewing and understanding images of architecture and urban landscapes. Many of us in the visual resources field have a large number of images presenting different views of the same structure. Although we provide descriptions of these particular views it is difficult for the user to get a sense of the structure as a whole. Instead of looking at individual photographs and trying to make sense of them, Photosynth presents images in a manner in which the user gets a sense of the entire space.

Photosynth was commercially licensed by Microsoft Live Labs in 2006 from the work of Noah Snavely, University of Washington PhD student, and advisors Steven M. Seitz, Associate Professor at the University of Washington, and Richard Szeliski from Microsoft Research. In their white paper, “Photo Tourism: Exploring Photo Collections in 3D” (http://phototour.cs.washington.edu/Photo_Tourism.pdf), the system they designed not only offers 3-D fly around views but also allows object based browsing, camera position information, and automatic transference of annotations between similar images.

What might interest us as visual resource professionals is this idea of automatically transferring annotations by linking images that contain the same objects. Photo Tourism proposes that a user will select a portion of an image and draw a transparent box where they can enter text. This information can then be transferred automatically to other relevant photographs. Aguera y Arcas states in his presentation that your own “photos [can get] tagged with metadata someone else entered. If somebody bothered to tag all of these saints . . . then my photo of Notre Dame Cathedral suddenly gets enriched with all that data.” In its current state Photosynth does not have the capability for anyone to enter metadata to images. The Web site on Live Labs states that the version available now is a technology preview and a “few steps short of beta.” However, it can be inferred from the Aguera y Arcas statement that in the future this will be possible.

Although Photosynth is just a preview it is still quite impressive. Currently there are seven collections available on the site. If you want to try it out you must first download the software and it only works with XP or Vista and with Internet Explorer or Firefox. The Gary Faigin Art Gallery is an example collection which gives a sense of how Photosynth works. First you will see a simulated 3-D model of the entire space, which slowly dissolves, leaving you looking at an image of Faigin working at his easel. A description of the collection appears on the left side, along with a few hyperlinks which take you to specific views you might find interesting. The large center image has arrows that can be clicked to move it right, left, or up, to get an idea of the space. This is somewhat similar to viewing a Quick Time Virtual Reality file except that clickable blocks appear that will take you to different viewpoints and closer views. The zooming capability is very impressive. Click on one of Faigin’s paintings and you are able to zoom with your scroll bar into the 80 megapixel files without waiting for the image to come into focus.

Other collections available on the Web site are Gyeongbokgung, Piazza San Marco, Grassi Lakes, Piazza San Pietro and NASA Meets Photosynth along with an ongoing project from the BBC, “Your Britain in Pictures.” Within this collection you can view the gorgeous gate at Burghley and its fabulous seventy-six chimneys and views of the garden. View the recently restored Blackpool Tower Ballroom, the Royal Crescent, and Trafalgar Square.

Photosynth uses computer vision techniques to look at the key points in a photograph, such as a corner of a building, a staircase, or a window and then using Structure from Motion (SfM) procedures the geometry of the object can be rendered. In some of their first tests Snavely, Seitz, and Szeliski used a controlled collection of 197 photographs of Prague and 120 photographs of the Great Wall of China. Later they tried uncontrolled collections of images from Flickr. By searching with the terms “Notre Dame AND Paris” they were able to find over 2600 photos of the cathedral. Then using their system they were able to create a set containing 597 images. A demo of the unified collection of Notre Dame was shown by Aguera y Arcas at TED.

Many of the incredible zooming features in Photosynth were made possible by the development of Seadragon, created by Aguera y Arcas (now acquired by Microsoft and called Deep Zoom). The technology allows seamless zooming of images by enabling the viewer to see an entire image at low resolution or a portion of it at very high resolution or anything in between.

See how amazing the technology is by going to the Hard Rock Memorabilia (http://memorabilia.hardrock.com/) Web site. The Hard Rock boasts the largest collection of rock-n-roll memorabilia in the world, totaling 77,000 objects. Only a small portion is available online but they intend on providing access to everything in the future. Once at the site all of the digital surrogates appear all at once as tiny thumbnails contained in a rectangular box. Move the scroll bar on your mouse and you can zoom in on a guitar owned by Jimi Hendrix or view John Lennon’s handwritten lyrics to “Don’t Let Me Down.” The site was developed by Vertigo, a computer programming company based in Richmond, California. Using Microsoft Silverlight2 technology, with its Deep Zoom capability they created a site that is fun and easy to use (however, you must first install the Silverlight plugin). Silverlight2 was just released in beta in March as an open source, cross-browser, cross- platform, and cross-device plug-in used for delivering media and interactive applications on the Web. Vertigo’s business development coordinator stated that the company is interested in working with educational institutions and museums to develop a similar tool.

Photosynth and Deep Zoom have the potential to change the way we interact with images and how images are presented in the classroom. The technology is exciting and fortunately they are very intuitive, interactive, and even fun to use.

Please contact Jacquelyn Erdman with any questions or suggestions for future columns. For more information on the activities of the Digital Initiatives Advisory Group (DIAG) see http://www.vraweb.org/diag/index.htm

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Positions Filled
Compiled by Anne Norcross (Kendall College of Art & Design)

Massachusetts College of Art and Design
Jen Green has accepted the position of Visual Resources Librarian effective June 2. Jen is active in the VRA as the Intellectual Property Rights News column editor for Images. She also compiles the VRA-IPR News post and is a member of the Strategic Plan Task Force.

Two Cat Digital, Inc
Two Cat Digital, Inc. in San Leandro, California has filled the position of Digital Imaging Assistant. Their new Digital Imaging Assistant is Linda Lam. Linda is a recent graduate from San Jose State University with a degree in Art History. She has been accepted to the MLIS program at San Jose State this fall.

University of Delaware
Derek Churchill is the new Director of the Visual Resources Collection at the University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware. Prior to accepting the position at the University of Delaware, Derek was a Lecturer and Curator of Visual Resources at the University of Pittsburgh..

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