My job of updating Haverford’s Master List of Fine Arts Photographs involves both correcting old entries and creating entries for new acquisitions. One of the most difficult but equally rewarding series of photographs I have created entries for are the amateur cell phone photographs shown in The Relentless Eye: Global Cell Phone Photography exhibit. When Professor Williams first handed me the packet of photographs, I did not think creating the entries was going to be very difficult. All of the prints were the same size and were acquired at the same time from the Helen Day Art Centre. The only other information I needed to find was the photographers’ nationalities and dates of birth. That couldn’t possibly be too hard, right?
My first instinct was to simply look up the photographers on Wikipedia, something I had done for other photographers I had needed more information on. This time, I couldn’t find any info beyond “There were no results matching the query.” After Wikipedia failed me, I tried another technique that had served me well in the past. I ran a Google search of every artist, with the words “photographer bio” attached at the end. I was hoping to find the photographers’ official website with a convenient “Biography” section. My plans were foiled once again when the Google searches yielded only a few of the official websites I was looking for. It was at this point that I realized that this job was going to be more difficult than I had assumed.
After discussing the photos with Professor Williams, I figured out why finding biographical information was proving to be very difficult. Most of the cell phone photographers were either amateurs or lesser-known professionals. Therefore, they were not likely to have Wikipedia pages or professional websites. Furthermore, it appeared that some of the photographers were living and working outside of the United States, which increased the difficulty of finding biographical information. I needed to begin thinking outside of the box in order to find the missing information required to complete the Master List entries.
After abandoning Wikipedia and Google searches, I began looking for the photographers in online image sharing communities such as fotoblur.com and flickr. I was pleased to find that I was able to locate many of the photographers on these sites. I managed to contact other photographers via messages to their Facebook fan pages and LinkedIn accounts. My original feelings of frustration with the project were replaced with a sense of accomplishment every time I managed to track down another photographer. After 4 full days of surfing the Internet and a small amount of pseudo-detective work, I had contacted 20 photographers whose works were included in the cell phone photography exhibit.
Even after I reached out to all of the photographers, I still had my doubts on how many of them would actually respond to my out of the blue message claiming that I was a Haverford College student who was updating the Master List of Fine Arts Photographs and requesting their nationality and year of birth. To my surprise, almost all of the photographers responded to my message and had little to no problem releasing the info I needed. Many of them were happy to know what had become of their photographs.
The side project of contacting The Relentless Eye photographers made me really appreciate how much the Internet and social networking sites such as Facebook facilitates global communication. Without sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, I would have had a much more difficult time contacting the photographers. Image hosting sites such as Flickr and Fotoblur make it much easier for photographers and other artists to share their work with the rest of the world. Locating and communicating with the various photographers associated with The Relentless Eye exhibit has definitely been my favorite and most rewarding assignment thus far.