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Powerhouse Museum joins the Commons on Flickr – the what, why and how

Yes, you read that right. The Powerhouse Museum is the first museum to join the Commons on Flickr! And we’re excited because it went live today!

In the tradition of ‘slow food’ we have decided to do a slow release of content with an initial 200 historic images of Sydney and surrounds available through the Commons on Flickr and a promise of another 50 new fresh images each week! These initial images are drawn from the Tyrrell Collection. Representing some of the most significant examples of early Australian photography, the Tyrrell Collection is a series of glass plate negatives by Charles Kerry (1857-1928) and Henry King (1855-1923), two of Sydney’s principal photographic studios at the time.

(Sydney Cricket Ground)

We have also done something a little different to the Library of Congress – we have also started geo-tagging as many of the images we are uploading as possible. You can jump over to Flickr and see the images plotted on a map, then zoom in to browse and navigate. We are really excited by the possibilities that this opens up – suddenly ‘then and now’ photography becomes possible on a mass public scale. Because these images are being added to the Commons they are provided as having “no known Copyright” allowing maximum reuse.

We joined up with Flickr because we knew that the Tyrrell Collection were still largely unkown by the general public. This was despite fully catalogued sections (275 images) of the collection having been available on our own website for many years, as well as some of the semi-catalogued images (680 images) more recently in our collection database. We had also syndicated a feed of the fully catalogued Tyrrell images to the National Library of Australia’s Picture Australia. There are nearly 8000 Tyrrell images in total.

(Bondi Beach)

What Flickr offers the Powerhouse is an immediate large and broader audience for this content. And with this exposure we hope that we will have a strong driver to increase the cataloguing and digitisation of the remaining Tyrrell glass plate negatives as well as many more the previously hidden photographic collections of the Powerhouse.

There is a little bit of a back story here too. Joining the Commons happened rather by luck. Thanks to Maxine Sherrin and John Alsopp at Web Directions, George Oates from Flickr and I were speaking at the same event (Web Directions South) last year and were introduced. George visited the Museum during her time in Sydney and met the Image Services, Web Services, and Photography teams and we resolved to do something together. At that stage, the Commons was not public knowledge, and after it launched, George, being an ex-pat Australian, and I planned to get the Powerhouse Museum involved as soon as possible. Thanks to the swift work of Paula Bray and Luke Dearnley at the Powerhouse, as well as the support of internal management, the Museum has been able to seize this fantastic opportunity and react quickly.

George has blogged about the Powerhouse in the Commons over at the Flickr blog, and Paula will be blogging it over at Photo of the Day in a couple of hours.

7 replies on “Powerhouse Museum joins the Commons on Flickr – the what, why and how”

Hey Seb. Looks good. Just coupla questions:
* Could fotos be posted to this site if they are not on the Museum’s website?
* Did you use EMU or some other database to upload the assocaaited information to Flickr?
* Are the fields you have filled in mandatory or can you create your own?
* Is there capabilty to add audio commntary to this site?

The reason I ask is that the Australian Museum has opened an amazing exhibition of fotos by Frank Hurley, truly an inspiring Australian. We are also working on a series of podcasts with one of our Senior Reseach Fellows here documenting the stories behind these fotos to give a more personal context.

Hi Lynda

Answering your questions –

1. Yes. But in so doing you might defeat one of the side-purposes of putting them on Flickr which is driving more interest in the other image content on your own site.

2. Yes. Once an agreement had been signed and a special account established with different T&C we used the Flickr API to upload content directly from the Emu via our OPAC. Likewise we can use the Flickr API to pull down user tags to augment our own records if they are valuable.

3. No. There are three main Flickr fields – title, description, and Copyright. The ‘description’ field contains a bunch of our internal fields that we wanted to display alongside the record. We purposely left out descriptive text as we want to encourage as much tagging as possible. The Copyright field is auto-generated by Flickr based on our special Commons account type.

4. Not directly on Flickr but given their well documented API there is no reason why you couldn’t build an audio annotation/Flickr mashup. I know of some that already exist actually – but remember that this would not occur on the Flickr site (which is at least part of the reason why you want to contribute to the Commons.

I notice Frank Hurley’s work will only partially be out of Copyright so it would depend a lot on rights issues.

What a fantastic initiative! There’s some wonderful photos in there.

Is there a reason you’re not uploading them at higher resolution? Are you trying to discourage use in print?

Hi Dan

We’ve put the images up at the same maximum resolution that the Library of Congress put their images in the Commons at.

For us, this is the first step. We want to see what people actually want and what they use them for. If there is enough demand for higher resolution versions then it is likely that we will consider re-uploading them – and in some cases we would need to re-digitise.

Obviously digitisation costs money and time. Remember that we are coming from a position where we have had very limited understanding of the (real) demand for digitised content, and how that demand translates in terms of file formats and granularity, as well as discoverability.

The Commons allows us to begin to learn about the (real) demand as well as explore the way that (new) users might want to find them (by the language of tags), as well as how they may want them.

As to discouraging use in print – not specifically. It is a balance between volume (quantity) and the individual quality of each image. And, as I say, we may well update with high resolution versions if the demand was really there. For example – do we go to HD resolution (1920px on longest side)? or even higher? If we need to re-digitise at the higher resolution, how do we fund that digitisation?

Hi Seb,

It’s a really good idea to be on the Flickr social network and to offer photos to the community like that !
But I have just one question. Why Flickr and not the community of the museum social tagging project for museums ?

Hi Diane

Flickr has a much larger community. Much larger. And more engaged.

Also, now that they are there there is no reason why they cannot be pulled into the project via the Flickr API in any case.

The key thing about the Commons on Flickr vs ‘normal’ Flickr is the use of the ‘no known copyright’ flag for the images.


Congratulations to the Powerhouse Museum for doing this, it’s really wonderful.Some of the images are so *quaint*!
I love the shearing shed ones. So quintessentially Australian. Thank you for sharing these interesting works more widely.

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