Image Processing and Reunification Workshop

“zooming in as de-familiarizing”, Laura Wexler

I recently had the pleasure of attending the Image Processing and Reunification Workshop at the University of Maryland, and wanted to pull together some thoughts and notes while it was fresh on the brain. I can let the workshop’s website speak to the motivation and actualization of the event, but my enthusiastic thanks and kudos to the primary organizers Ricky Punzalan and Trevor Muñoz for putting it together.

I hardly know where to begin. Maybe with the quote from above, which occured on the last day of the workshop, and work backwards.

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The workshop sought to bring together people from computer vision, humanities scholars, and the Libraries / Archives / Museums (LAM) world, to share understandings around image processing and image reunification.

  • What do those terms mean?
  • How are they used differently across domains?
  • How can computer scientists, humanities scholars, and what I’ll refer to here as “digital LAMs” collaborate, share and write grants, and otherwise explore these areas together?
  • In the words of the workshop programming, what are the great challenges in each area?

I came into the workshop thinking it was going to focus on standards like the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF), and the digital object repositories like Fedora Commons that serve said images.

In a nutshell, my thinking that the discussions would take those technologies and standards as the basis for conversation, is quite precisely why I found this workshop so helpful and constructive. Though I expected the diversity of attendees to steer the conversation in many directions, I hadn’t anticipated that IIIF and the technical mechanics of image sharing – which seem so central to image processing and reunification to me – would be but part of the puzzle.

This is worth restating: I understood there is plenty in this space that do not include the preservation and access of images, but the majority of my focus and energy is towards just that, and a certain tunnel vision creeps in. This workshop helped me remove those goggles for a moment, and see the role of Libraries, Archives, etc. amidst the overlapping Venns of computer vision, research questions, national and local research agendas, etc.

So the quote? A paraphrasing of something that came up in the second day’s discussion, Laura Wexler quipped that zooming in on an image can have de-familiarizing effects. This is “zooming in” literally and figuratively. As we dive into the pixels of an image, the writing on a building, the eyelashes of a face, we risk losing context of that detail in the greater landscape of the image. Similarily, even just focusing on one image, we might fail to see how it relates to other images from the same role, the same photgrapher, the same place, etc. Laura Tilton, whom works with Taylor Arnold and Laura Wexler on the excellent Photogrammar project, asked what “Distance Looking” might mean. What is happening when we take in 100k of images in one interface and moment?

I wish I had my notebook nearby to tether bullets to penned thoughts during the workshop, but alas I do not. In an effort to not lose thoughts at the lure of more, I will post this now. I would add that I hope or plan to revisit and fill in those gaps, but if I’ve learned anything about the internet, it’s that “check back often” or “coming soon” never fares well. What I can say, on the heels of this workshop I had the good fortune of listening to some of the same speakers via a live webcast of Collections as Data 2016, and I realized what had happened. My thinking had been irrevocably broadened by the workshop, and the connections abound. My thanks again to the organizers, it was a joyous romp into the intersections of computer science, archival principles, and fascinating research.