Digital Transformation, ICT and Cultural Heritage: let’s rethink Open Access

For someone with a long career in ICT, it’s always a bit uncanny to hear about the trending notion of “Digital Transformation”. While Information and Communication Technologies strictly speaking have their roots in century-long analog technologies, the concept as we know it is often perceived as synonymous with “digital”, and its transformational powers were crystal clear already in the past century, see e.g. the Information Age trilogy by Manuel Castells. So nothing really new there. Or is it?

The birth of Adonis and the transformation of Myrrha. Oil painting by Luigi Garzi.

The birth of Adonis and the transformation of Myrrha. Oil painting by Luigi Garzi. Welcome collection, CC-BY

Let’s try to understand what this “transformation” really could mean. I would like to propose an example: when universities introduced the now very common Learning Content Management Systems at the start of the current millennium, it was originally a question of setting up a server that ran an online application. Often it was implemented completely separated from other university management systems, with a different set of logins, and mostly at the department or faculty level. Many Faculties had their WebCT, Blackboard, or Moodle-based server. Originally, it consisted mostly of a delivery system for digitized course contents, e.g. in PDF format. Gradually, however, functionalities were added to make it more of a comprehensive “Virtual Learning Environment“, where learning activities such as exercises and tasks could be done online.

The transformational impact of ICT

At KU Leuven, we soon realized that another approach was needed: not only was it not very smart to manage such a system independently from other university management systems, but it also became clear that given education, including teaching and learning activities, is a core pillar of the university business, the VLE should be integrated into the core architecture of our ICT systems. In fact, we needed to develop at the university the specific ICT solutions to support and deliver our main educational outputs. 

While originally the drive, motivation, and requirements for the VLE came from pedagogy, a radical shift was needed, and we needed to put ICT in the pilot seat. In fact, we realized that the whole teaching and learning activity was still beyond the radar of our information processes. The real digital “transformation” would be to capture what was happening in the classrooms and study centres as an information stream, which would help us to manage, control, and optimize these processes. Suddenly, the analytics information from the LCMS became a very important source material to base our policy actions on. This insight was not readily adopted by the education management boards in the Faculties or at the university level, and we quickly learned that it was safer to just do it and implement it than to talk too much about it. Looking at education from the viewpoint of Claude Shannon’s information theory was a bit eery, but just plain logical. 

Inside-out and outside-in

15 years later it is generally accepted that “Digital Transformation” – or the implementation of impactful ICT infrastructures – implies rethinking the core business processes and organizational workflows. This is what is happening today in the Cultural Heritage / GLAM sector. People look beyond the digital catalog or website portal to understand they need a coherent digital strategy to make sure their business processes and services are based on their information exchange systems. It is important to note, however, that up to now, IMHO, implementations of digital strategies in the GLAM sector have failed to understand the real importance and opportunities of “going digital”. Most implementation models are still mainly “inside-out”. They focus on the collections and how to push them to the outside users. The idea is that “Open Access” would benefit the user communities somehow, with a long tail model, involving a majority of users just consulting and browsing the materials, and a more dedicated segment really taking advantage of this source material to create new outputs. Open Access policies are a generally accepted ingredient of CHI policies, for good reason. But then again: they look at publishing digitized collections from an inside-out perspective. 

From a more generic view on online publishing and website development, I would say that this is not the way to go. One of the main things that I want students in my class on Online Publishing to understand, is that for a website, it is as important to get information in than to get information out. In fact, pushing information out requires a lot of effort, maintenance, and cost. The real gain is what you get back: the information that comes in from the use of your website. This is, of course, the basis of any website built for commercial purposes – a restaurant publishes its website to get reservations in the first place. It is also the business model that lies at the core of big distribution platforms such as Amazon and the likes, where the added value is the knowledge that they glean from users of all parts of the value chain while using these portals. 

And yet, this essential insight, that the information coming in is the main reason why you would make the effort to push information out, seems often lost when thinking about publishing digital collections in the GLAM sector. 

Rethinking Open Access

The idea is that when we segment the more active part of this user community, we will see that there are intensive amateur users, an intermediate category dubbed the ” pro-ams” and then a more professional community who would turn this raw material into new products and services, in other words, the “creative industries”. It is difficult to assess the true impact and scale of this creative reuse in the GLAM sector, but I am confident good examples exist, and we are gathering them on the participatory platform of our Indices H2020 project

We should think about what we aim for when people have access to our digital collections. What is the real potential? We seem to be lacking a vision about what “reuse” could mean in the context of heritage. I guess we all understand “reuse” as a secondary use, beyond the primary, private individual use. Let’s not forget that also the primary use has a long tail structure: there are communities who use the contents of digital collections in a casual, ephemeral way: “looking around” a bit or coming in on your portal in search for one piece of information. But there are the more passionate culture lovers who spend many, many hours studying the digital collections. In the end, there are professionals who actually need this content to integrate it into their work. In the case of cultural heritage collections, teachers, educators, and researchers come to mind. And fellow CHI colleagues who are looking for missing pieces, or want to build a virtual overview of dispersed collections. Once a new result, product or service comes out of this primary use we call it “reuse”. That could be a gallery, a story, a game, or an app. Open Access, exemplified by OpenGLAM is then the publishing of digital collections in such a way that people have the license to reuse this content. 

Curation beyond patronage

However, this model still sees the cultural heritage institution as the guardian of the heritage collections. It leaves the basic mission of the institution untouched: to safeguard, preserve, and select what is to be considered as heritage. Pier Luigi Sacco calls this the “Culture 2.0” model. And in fact, it is a commodification of heritage. It doesn’t question what actually makes objects from the past “heritage”. Is it merely “inheritance”? Getting stuck with loads of old stuff? We would say no: it is the result of selection, curation, and canonization of what has been deemed “valuable”. Up until the end of the 20th century, we left selection, curation, and canonization in the hands of professionals from the GLAM institutions and scholars. Not only did they have privileged access, but they also are supposed to have the necessary knowledge to make the right judgments.

The Open Access movement wants to change this. It wants to open up collections through digital technologies to allow broader audiences to have access to even the most vulnerable heritage, by means of mass digitization and open licensing. To make this access meaningful and useful, we are moving from a catalog style record, listing some summary data about the objects, to ever richer, multilingual metadata – more and more automatically enhanced through deep learning algorithms – and more sophisticated digital representations such as 3D, multispectral imaging and OCR, so that users can access and engage with the true properties of the digitized objects. 

But should the buck stop here? Is this the participatory Culture 3.0 paradigm shift Pier Luigi Sacco is talking about? We are trying to find out in the Indices project, which aims to understand how Open Access can form part of the core workflows and business models in GLAM and Cultural Heritage institutions to really take advantage of what ICT can bring to the table. 

Users can do so much more than just browse through some content and download images. They can contextualize the content from their own lived experience. They can assist in co-curation, tagging, translations, transcription efforts. More importantly, they can connect the collection objects to their natural habitat, which is not the gallery, library archive, or museum but the cultural community which gives meaning and symbolic value to those objects.

So the ICT tools we should be looking at are not only the digitization, distribution, and visualization tools. It should include the participatory platforms that allow people to engage with the contents, to start commenting, selecting, curation, and co-creating stories. To start informed debates about the values that the collection objects represent. A clear example of this shift is the way communities want a say in how colonial-era content can be re-represented and “decolonized”. While the actual composition of European society has dramatically changed  since the 20th Century, the collections in European GLAM institutions, the metadata descriptions, and the narratives in which they are embedded have failed to reflect this.  Communities that are now in the inside of European history, are often portrayed as belonging to outside worlds. We badly need new, inclusive narratives that give more sustainable meaning and value to heritage collections.

In conclusion

Let’s take the next step in Open Access, and start to share digitized cultural heritage collections in a way that enables communities to not only to co-curate and co-create content, but also gives them a voice to co-decide what we consider heritage, how we assess its value, how we can make it more representative for past, current and future audiences. New generations of Europeans are ready to take on this task – the “citizen science” for the GLAM sector so to say – they are virtually knocking on the door of our institutions. let’s let them in. That would be truly Open Access. 

The transformation of Myrrha gave birth to Adonis according to Greek mythology. Let’s see what beautiful offspring the digital transformation will bring to Cultural Heritage! 




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Update: Engaging users with Digital Collections

It has been almost 4 years since I posted on this blog, so it is time for an update on what has been happening. In fact: quite a lot! One of the reasons I didn’t have time to write this blog, is that our group at CS Digital attracted so many projects we could barely handle them all. So lets’ talk about some of the more important projects and results that have kept us busy. In this blog, we will focus on our work for Europeana. Most of the outputs mentioned below involve editorials, storytelling, exhibitions. However, my work has seldom to do with the contents, but focuses on the project conceptualisation and management, out of a research interest in applying digital technologies, in particular online publishing, to the GLAM sector.  


In 2017, Photoconsortium became a partner in the Europeana DSI. In the context of the funding for the Europeana Core Services, work was done on realizing a large editorial project on photography collections: Industrial Photography in the Machine Age. Curator Sofie Taes worked with Photoconsortium partners to create a number of virtual exhibitions, galleries and bogs for the Europeana Photography collection.

You can see these here: 

Construction of the bridge at Peixateries Velles in Girona, Spain, 1923, Josep Jou Parés, Institution: Ajuntament de Girona, CC BY-NC-ND

In the meantime, we started work on the Photography metadata together with Europeana, developing a Photographer’s list and mapping the Photography thesaurus originally developed in the Europeana Photography project onto Getty AAT and Wikidata. 


Again, most of the work was concentrated on making Europeana a better online place, a better overall experience. We contributed through a series of projects funded in the CEF generic services. First of all Europeana Migration. This project aimed to bring a series of stories and editorials about migration in and out Europe, and also involved a digitisation effort. Together with lead partner Europeana Foundation and Photoconsortium, we produced galleries and virtual exhibitions and also worked on improving metadata for migration collections by working on WikiData. For us, it culminated in the magnificent real-life exhibition “Thousands are Sailing”, which was on display in Pisa in the fall of 2018 and travelled to Leuven afterwards. You can enjoy it on Photoconsortium’s website: For Europeana, the virtual exhibition “People on the Move” was made: 

Return of the miners, 1905, Constantin Meunier (original work of art), KU Leuven, CC BY-NC


This must have been the busiest year of our careers, without a doubt! First of all, we continued our work for Europeana by leading the project “Kaleidoscope: the Fifties in Europe” and contributing to Europeana Common Culture, an effort to set up a network of National Aggregators for Europeana. 

Kaleidoscope was our dream project, in which we could consolidate all our expertise in curating photography collections and exhibitions, as well as deepening our fundamental work on metadata development. We worked with a group of core partners in Photoconsortium with which we developed a very tight understanding and complementarity through the years. Again, Kaleidoscope produced many galleries and virtual exhibitions, as well as a hugely successful physical exhibition “Blue Skies, Red Panic” which travelled from Pisa (again at the wonderful Museo Della Grafica in the Palazzo Lanfranchi ) to Girona, Antwerp and finally Berlin, where it was on display at the famous Museum für Fotografie, which hosts the Helmut Newton Foundation. The online version of this exhibition can be seen on the Photoconsortium website:

A special version for Europeana can be found here: 

Speeding toddler in Helsingborg park, 1957, AB Helsingborgs-Bild, Kulturmagasinet, Helsingborgs museer, Public Domain

An important activity in Kaleidoscope involved the further improvement of photographic metadata by two efforts: an annotations campaign with NTUA, using the WITHCrowd platform, and a demonstrator of automated photographic patterns recognition by using deep learning algorithms, research done by partner imec/ETRO

You can find the annotation campaigns here: 

For Kaleidoscope, we produced a MOOC “Creating a Digital Cultural Heritage Community“, in which we focus on user engagement best practices online for Cultural Heritage institutions. 

You will find in the MOOC some very interesting contributions on Photography in the Fifties by experts from the Photoconsortium network. 


In 2020 we continue the work for Europeana Common Culture – which is more policy-oriented and aligns with work we do with Flemish national as well as H2020 funding on Digital transformation in the CHI sector. More about this in another blog! 

But we also started a new large CEF project, Europeana XX Century of Change, which promises a wide range of editorials for Europeana with a broad network of aggregator. This time it covers main themes of the XXst century. 

main image

Title: Reunió fejocistes, Desconegut, 1936, Ajuntament de Girona, Catalunya, Public Domain



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Europeana Space: MOOC launch countdown!

The last couple of months we have been working hard on the Europeana Space MOOC, which will be launched on Monday, October 10th! This MOOC confirms our focus on education. While of course the bulk of the work in Europeana Space was targeting the creative industries, running demonstrators and pilots, organizing hackathons and business modelling workshops, all with the goal of proving the case for creative reuse of Europeana contents. This doesn’t mean however that we fail to see the importance of education to have an impact on the longer run. Europeana Space first launched its Education portal, and we did presentations at several E-Learning conferences, such as Inted 2016 and Edulearn 2016. We will also present the value of Europeana for education at the OOFHEC2016 conference in Rome.

e-spacexThe E-Space Education portal highlights the results of the pilots and demonstrators, and gives clues how these outputs can be used in educational contexts. However, if you really want to learn how to do this, you need some more concentrated effort! This is why we decided to offer a MOOC, hosted on the edX platform. With KULeuvenX, KU Leuven university wants to bring innovative concepts to the world of online learning. Following the examples of GRAPH, a course on the Great War and Philosophy, where both online and on-campus students were actively involved, and “Trends in E-Psychology”, where a completely new field is explored, E-SpaceX offers a course which is not based on a university curriculum course, but stems directly from the action research done in Europeana Space. It is simply the other way around: from this MOOC we derive a university course, which is now offered as part of the course “Online Publishing” in the MA Cultural Studies and the MA Digital Humanities at KU Leuven.


Watch the E-Space MOOC teaser!

What can you expect from this MOOC?

Based on the E-Space pilots, there are 5 modules that teach how to engage with digitized cultural content: Photography, Open and Hybrid Publishing, TV, Dance and Museums. Besides those, there are two background modules: IP for the Cultural Entrepeneur and Creative Marketing.

The modules hold the usual videos, lectures and quizzes, but they also contain hands-on assignments. E.g., in the Photogaphy module you will make your own photostory online!.

The course is self-paced, it is not too late to register now!

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Europeana Space Photo pilot: Innovate your photographic heritage … and your future business!

Europeana Space

Europeana Space

The web and the smartphone have changed photography irrevocably. No need to explain that selfies, instagram, GoPro’s and the sheer ubiquity of the image have completely transformed the place of photography in our lives. It also had a profound effect on professional photography.

It is true that classic business models have suffered from this: news photographers now have to compete with thousands of citizens ready to share their smartphone pictures with news outlets, often having the first scoop on events. The classic photo print shop experiences difficult times, and no need to buy illustrated books or to pay for image rights when you can download any picture of about anything for free on the web. In particular, the IP-based business models underlying the photo industry are under strong pressure, forcing photo archives, photo agencies, museums and publishers to innovate or perish.

But of course the new situation also holds tremendous opportunities. Some of those are currently underexploited. In the EuropeanaSpace Photo pilot, we are zooming in on the fact that currently there is an enormous wealth of photographic heritage from trusted sources available on platforms such as Europeana, Wikimedia Commons, Flickr commons and the likes, where high digital quality is paired with useful metadata. In the EuropeanaPhotography project, some of the Espace partners contributed to put almost half a million images from early photography on Europeana, all digitized to the highest standards. Not only are these images true to the source, the state-of-the-art digitization means that the maximum information in the analogue source was translated into the digital file. This was demonstrated in the exhibition “All our Yesterdays”, where early photographs from this collection were reprinted in a breathtakingly high quality rendering a dynamic range that was never before available. We can now see these images in a quality hitherto unseen, including by the original photographer. In this way, the past comes to life in a very peculiar way.

Gaston Paris - Young women at a fair 1935

Silver gelatine glass plates reprinted in HDR with very high resolution give a totally new photo experience, with these beautiful girls laughing at you from decades away.
Gaston Paris | location unknown (France), 1935 Young women at a fun fair. Roger-Viollet collections © Gaston Paris / Roger-Viollet

And yes, partners such as KU Leuven, with its Digital Lab and ESAT/Visics research group, and iMinds, who are involved in many aspects of digital image standards and in digital restoration of high value paintings, are at the top of innovation in image digitization. But this is not the kind of innovation we are aiming at in Europeana Space. Innovation is maybe a word used to cheaply, but what is sure is that it covers different meanings and can come in many guises. There is of course the innovation that comes directly from scientific research, such as valorisation. And there is innovation coming from bright ideas. Where the first is more and more the result of careful planning and dependent on a steady stream of resources, the latter are more difficult to plan, there is always some serendipity involved. But these innovations alone do not necessarily translate into new practices, in new markets, in new revenue streams. The photography pilot aims at innovation in photo agencies, archives, museums and education through reuse of the photographic content available on Europeana and similar open repositories, mixed with copyrighted and user-generated content stemming from modern day photographic practices.

A more durable and radical impact on innovation often comes from the availability of new sources, new raw materials. It is our opinion that the digital cultural heritage now available through sources such as Europeana (with >30 million objects) is such a new source. This is also the conviction of Europeana itself, which wants to stimulate the reuse of the contents it brokers trough Europeana Creative.

The Europeana Space Photography pilot wants to contribute to this effort, as this will lead to a much deeper innovation in the long run: how can users become more proactive in the reuse of digital photographic heritage in Europeana? How can they re-appropriate these contents and the past they represent in their current and future cultural practices? How can this increase in the number of proactive users lead to the emergence of real creative industries that build new business models on top of it?


To this end, the Photography pilot started with the development of demonstrators, which aim to show developers what possibilities are available on 3 different levels. First of all there is a multitude of already available apps that can already be used to innovate existing image businesses. We showed how e.g. the Blinkster app, using image similarity recognition algorithms, can be used to enhance photo exhibition experiences. This is further explored in the Espace museum pilot. We carefully review what are the possible showstoppers in applying these already available technologies to innovate what is happening in exhibitions. The innovation we are talking about here is not a technological innovation, it is more focused on innovation of procedures and approaches within the museum exhibition world.

In a second demonstrator, we want to show how people can create innovative new ways of social activities based on the remixability of digital photographic cultural heritage. We use early photography images from Europeana, and create challenges and events where people are invited to take their own photos of old scenes in a city. In particular, we use photos of early twentieth century Leuven and ask people to look for the same streets and scenes and try to reinterpret them with their smartphones. This demonstrator makes use of the in museum and cultural heritage institutions very popolar Omeka front-end, combined with the Espace back-end.

In a third demonstrator, we will use these old and new images to create augmented reality experiences, where old and new images can be overlayed and mixed to create stunning  visual experiences such as instant time-travel.

The only aim of the demonstrators is to set the stage for a hackathon event on 25-27 February 2016 in Leuven, where developers and content providers are invited to test new ideas. To test some ideas already, the Photo pilot participated in the Espace TV Hackathon in Amsterdam, teaming up with Noterik and World Press Photo to propose a “Photo expo 2.0” app, using the Noterik multiscreen Toolkit.

Again, these are not innovations in itself. What we aim for, is to study what are the pitfalls, the lacking elements in the chain that make or break the possible emergence of radically new practices. We already identified two major elements that can enable the creation of more genuine interaction, and that are currently lacking in the Europeana environment: the possibility for user login and a protected space for copyrighted content.

User login

First of all, the Europeana portal as it is now is a first generation web application that doesn’t allow for users to login. This limits severely the possibilities for users to become engaged on the one hand, but more importantly it prohibits the content providers to glean interesting knowledge about who is using their content when. Europeana Space provides the possibility for users to login and to save their own data on the Espace server, combined with both open content and copyrighted content made available in the Europeana Space Content space. The Espace API will provide functionalities to exploit these user login data, with full protection of privacy and rights.

Protected space

Part of the content available through Europeana is Public Domain labelled, or dedicated for reuse through Creative Commons licenses. However, one of the biggest showstoppers and impediments of reuse is that much of the content remains copyrighted. This is not only for commercial reason: many archives do not want commercial reuse of their content for moral integrity reasons: they feel their cultural heritage deserves respects and should not be alienated.

To make it possible for innovators to experiment with new applications before having to negotiate for the rights on content, Espace develops a “protected space” both legally and technically: it aims to complement the interesting work already being done by Europeana in the context of the Rights Labeling Campaign, by adding more refined reuse metadata. The whole point is that in creative industries new IP is created adding on top of existing IP from content owners. Because of the unclarity of this relation many content owners are reluctant to share their materials online, fearing that other business will make profit with their content without the content owner sharing in the revenue. This was clear in the EuropeanaPhotography project, where it proved very difficult to convince current photo businesses to open up their content for reuse. In Europeana Space, Photoconsortium members add content to the Espace content space for innovative reuse in applications.

These two elements combined, the user login functionality and the protected space, aim to create a context where creativity can flourish, and new business models can be explored jointly by proactive citizens, creative industries and content owners and caretakers such as musea and archives.

In the Hackathon, the tools from Europeana Labs will be provided together with the Europeana Space API, which gives access to the protected space. Open tools will be provided to connect CMS software such as Omeka to this backend environment. Besides access to the open content, the possibility to upload and manage user generated content and access to copyrighted Europeana Space content will be available to developers. The Blinkster application will be available as well as augmented reality tools and specific image processing algorithms. The challenge will be to bring all these elements together in such a way that content providers and users meet in innovative ways mediated by the content. There will be clear guidance into how IPR issues can be anticipated and monitored throughout the whole design process.

The kind of innovation we are aiming at is innovation in the long run, contributing to a basic layer that brings creative cultural activity to a new, sustainable level.  We like to call this “tidal’ innovation: making sure that when a new massive availablility wave occurs, as is the case now with abundant photographic content flowing from Europeana, it is picked up so that wave after wave the there is more impact on the coastline. More than hoping to yield from the hackathon that single bright idea that could become in itself a new micro business model, it is more the general strengthening of the intermediate layers required for many of these new bright ideas to emerge that is our core concern. Finding the links between the photographic heritage content, the wide variety of general public, amateurs, pro-ams and professional developers through an intermediate software architecture that provides real role identification and task burden sharing while at the same time improving transparency on rights is the real challenge. The big issue with the “Long Tail” is not so much the small group of pioneers and neither it are the massive amount of passive followers. It is the intermediate groups in between that link the bright leaders to the masses. This is the place for innovative, sustainable, professionally maintained infrastructures. In this way Europeana Space hopes to contribute to the overall success and relevance of Europeana.

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Early Photography and the Digital World


Frederik Van den Broeck pouring the excess collodion in a glass

There is unmistakenly a boom in the rediscovery of early photography these days, not only with several exhibitions taking place, such as “Salt and Silver“, in  Tate Britain, and the travelling exhibition “All our Yesterdays“, now in Copenhagen,  but also with amateurs and photographers delving in this niche market, making portraits with wet collodion techniques, both tintypes and glass plates.

With the ubiquity of smartphone photography, people are looking for a deeper photographic experience and what is better suited than an image slowly appearing on the glass? Early photography seems to align with a deeper “vintage” revival, where old techniques are rediscovered and cherished for their often specific imperfections, in a quest for “authentic experiences”. We see this with the revival of the vinyl phonograph, the reel-to-reel tape recorders, the polaroid photo etc. It all seems related to the feeling that the digital commodifies everything, that it also “flattens” out all relevant differences and transforms them to one, uniform and narrowband, essentially boring, information stream.

Of course, some criticism against this retro movement is appropriate: one can debate whether this nostalgia is really leading to more authentic experiences, or whether it is not again a commercialising of trendy lifestyles rather than a genuine quest for lost realities. One could hold that this revival is rather a burial party, at the very moment we realize that the digital era irreversibly leaves behind the analog world as we knew it, we seem to gather a last time around these techniques, cherishing our golden memories. Many theoreticians of photographic art are inclined to see no real innovation into this essentially nostalgic movement, and are more eager to learn how the digital will evolve photography truly as an art.

Well, I think we are judging to fast. I think there is more to the revival of early photographic techniques than simply nostalgia. This misconception, that the analog is just a thing of the past, stems from a misunderstanding of digitization, as I will try to explain. While you can take any picture you like with a smartphone, this of course in itself does not really amount to a proper digitization of an analog object. When we digitize old photographs, eg, many issues come to mind. The first one is: which original? Imagine well known photos published in magazines that went around the globe, being reprinted all over. It can be quite a challenge to know from which original the first widespread reproduction was made. Was it from a print? Or from a (glass) negative? Suppose that you have both, are you going to reproduce the print or use the negative? From a digitization point of view, there are many arguments to choose the negative. And this is what we did for very large projects such as EuropeanaPhotography.

You will quickly discover that a photographer might have had many negatives of the same “photo” to choose from, certainly in the age of nitro celluloid film and beyond. But that is not the only issue. With current techniques, it is possible to retrieve a much “fuller” image from the negative than with old print techniques, such as an albumen contact print or a calotype positive. So you might render a photo experience of a much higher quality than  the photo that at that moment in history became famous. Again, this is exactly what we did in EuropeanaPhotography: we used digitization processes very akin to High Dynamic Range techniques to get the fullest dynamic range possible out of the negative.

But it doesn’t stop there. It is quite naive to think that you can digitize any old photo technique in the same way. Well, yes you can, but the accuracy of your digital representation will be hugely different, even at the same level of digital precision, eg at the same resolution, color space and depth. Look at the two images below:


Chapeau de Paul Poiret (1879-1944), couturier et décorateur français. Paris, 1925.

Retrat d'estudi d'una dona asseguda.

Retrat d’estudi d’una dona asseguda. Desconegut
Ajuntament de Girona

The first image is obtained from a silver gelatin glassplate, captured through backlight on a lightbox, the second is a tintype, for which backlighting is simply not an option. The latter has been captured using floodlight. Whereas it is possible to obtain a very high dynamic range with the first technique, it is very difficult to do justice to the tintype photo without using reflective imaging techniques, since a tintype object has very different properties compared with a glass plate in the way it lets through or reflects light. When we would show such images in a print exhibition, the first would look certainly better than a possible original print, the second would most certainly look very inferior to the original metal object. So, different digitization processes are needed to render different analog techniques, and the same state of the art doesn’t allow you to visualize the photos at the same standard. It was one of the reasons we predominantly showed silver gelatin dry plates at the “All our yesterdays” exhibition. We could render those at breathtaking quality, which we never could do with say a daguerreotype or tintype.

For a metal plate photo, we would need a rendering that allows to look at the image from different angles, so as to see the object in its true complexity. So digitizing it and showing it on screen or on print will not do justice to this particular photographic object. The mistake is to think the digital image is a representation of the original photo and its properties. It never is. It is a rendering of the information obtained from the original bearer. It are two distinct processes: the serialization to obtain the digital master, which contains the image information, and the rendering of a representation, a visualisation. The latter can be on screen, on print, even projected onto clouds. The rendering algorithms can evolve independently from the serialization. So a visualisation of a jpeg file in a few years might be superior to what we are able to show now. There is still a lot of evolution possible in the way the popular industry standard JPEG can evolve to better represent early photographic images.

The point is, the “original” is also a rendering of the photo. By other means. Captured in an analog, continuous medium. So the digital master is a representation, a model, of what is represented by the original (series of) photo(s). This model is always an approximation, it is not a one-to-one copy. The digital master itself will never be a “clone” of the original photographic object – it just holds the information -, and we are still very far from the day in which the digital master will allow us to reproduce a clone from the original daguerreotype, tintype or even silver gelatine glass plate. In this sense the daguerreotype still remains a unique object. So part of the reason analog photography isn’t dead, is not so much nostalgia, but the simple fact we did not yet manage to serialize it properly yet.

Of course this sounds like a futile remark: we are using digital master files every day to reproduce pictures in very good quality. This occurs millions of times a day by millions of users. So the digital has reached a point where the “undigitized”, the rest fragment that is not captured or rendered in the digital reproduction is so marginal that it is beyond the discriminatory powers in our daily practices.

But that doesn’t change that the analog experience is and stays also very different than the one mediated by digitization. Holding a daguerreotype in the hand, this beautiful, reflecting metal object in a glass frame, is and stays far from the experience offered by mediation of the digital master. But on the other hand, the digital master allows for visualisations to explore new avenues, new materials, new bearers, new formats. We, eg., showed the mostly 5×4″ photos in a much larger, more than 30″ wide format, on high contrast paper.

Retrat d'estudi

Retrat d’estudi d’una dona jove amb un llibre a les mans. Desconegut. Ajuntament de Girona

By separating the digitization process from the rendering, we can develop freely our rendering approaches and do things with early photography that have never been seen before. E.g. we can make multiple shots from a silver gelatine glass plate, creating a HDR image that renders the dynamic range of the negative to its fullest potential. Today, we can then render these images on screen or paper with a quality that was never seen before.

Photography definitely and irrevocably took a digital turn. The digital native is the present and future of photography. Yet our knowledge of the analog world is not yet complete, and there are still many things to do in digitization of early photographic heritage. The quest to understand the magic of chemistry and optics as it was exemplified from the very beginnings in photographic techniques as distinct as the daguerreotype and calotype hasn’t ended, and still hides an unexplored treasure trove.

Photoconsortium has the goal and ambition to explore this knowledge, to go beyond the current state-of-the-art in digitizing early photographic techniques.

Fred Truyen, summer 2015.

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Hacking Culture Bootcamp Amsterdam

It was a great weekend, really, at the Europeana TV Hackathon at De Waag, in the offices of Waag Society.

De Waag

De Waag Amsterdam

In Europeana Space, we will do 6 Hackathons, with the aim of selecting winners for a Remix monetizing event in London. EuropeanaTV was the first one, and I can say: what a launch! On Friday, it was time to get to know each other and to make teams. There were plenty of developers, and there were nice API’s and toolkits available, such as Noterik’s multiscreen toolkit. Cultural heritage experts from the Institute of RBB, Luce, and Sound and Vision  shared their knowledge on content and heritage innovation. But there was also help on business modelling with the input of Simon Cronshaw.

Photo expo 2.0

Photo Expo 2.0 team at work …

I was in fact going there as an observer: I will be hosting the photography hackathon in Leuven (save the date: 25-27 February 2016!).  But as it happens, there was also Paul Ruseler from World Press Photo, so I decided to join his team and hack the TV hackathon with a photo concept! We setup a team with Rutger Ronzendal and Pieter Van Leeuwen from Noterik. The idea was to change the photo exhibition experience by using a multitude of large and small screens allowing for interactivity.

Hackathon image

Hackathon groups are forming … with some advise from Noterik CTO Daniel Ockeloen, and the approving eye of Dr. Tulip!

It went off for a frenzy 3 days, of which unfortunately I couldn’t attend the last one. The mix of good technology and content support with real business concept advise propelled the participants to think outside of the box and to come up with ever more challenging solutions. The winners are ART(F)inder, Bosch and Mnemosyne. Read more about it here.

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Blinkster app demo in “All our Yesterdays”, Heverlee, Leuven March 2015

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Lift off: from EuropeanaPhotography to EuropeanaSpace

EuropeanaPhotography, a digitization project by 19 partners to deliver >430.000 images of early photography to Europeana, is completed. At the moment, users can browse through 448,811 photos on the Europeana portal.

Christina Morfova and Lyudmila Prokopova with their students at home Morfova.

Christina Morfova and Lyudmila Prokopova with their students at home Morfova 1930-1936.
NALIS Foundation
Public Domain Marked

During this 3 year journey, we discovered the unknown content of eachother’s archives and unearthed images of exceptional beauty. The collection as a whole gives a very complete overview of early photography – with the exception perhaps of Daguerreotypes, since there is another project working on this. But more importantly, it shows a hitherto untold story of European history, in particular how city lives evolved, as was put on display in our exhibition “All our Yesterdays“. The fact that we were a consortium spanning from Kiev to Barcelona and from London to Cyprus, together with the particular effort to explore new, often privately owned collections in Central Europe, allowed us to show aspects of European history that are not fully appreciated in all corners of the continent, and are most certainly not yet well represented in history schoolbooks throughout Europe.

Baku (Azerbaijan) street passers-by.

Baku (Azerbaijan) street passers-by.
Marionis Lithuanian Literature Museum
Public Domain Marked

EuropeanaPhotography was a digitization project, with a very focused work package structure. As such, it’s innovation lies not so much in its technological advance – since for digitization you use proven technologies – but in the impact that large digital collections have on different uses. The availability of large, curated, consistent thematic collections allows for a host of new applications to emerge. About 95.000 images from the Collection are Public Domain Marked, allowing reuse without conditions.

Europeana Space

Europeana Space

Exactly this aspect is what we are exploring in Europeana Space: the reuse of content from Europeana and other similar sources. In the photography pilot, we will explore new, innovative ways to reuse high-end photographic heritage. A first demo was with the Blinkster app near the end of the “All our Yesterdays” exhibition in Leuven. The app automatically detects the work a user is pointing at (see gallery) with his or her smartphone, and shows the corresponding caption. After the museum visit, the user has a small database with the images he/she retrieved during the exhibition.

Mechelsetraat Leuven

De Mechelsestraat in Leuven
Stadsarchief Leuven
Rights Reserved

A second pilot involves storytelling with Europeana content. Users can login to our ESpace environment, search for images on Europeana and other public sources, make a selection and build a story with them. This can be shared with other users. Users will also be able to upload their own images into the mix, using a CC-BY-SA license. For this, we use an Omeka frontend which is linked to both Europeana (through the Europeana API) and the ESpace API. In a third phase, we will add augmented reality functionality to these images, allowing users to superimpose old photographs on new ones. For this, we are using photographs from the Leuven City Archive, which also contributes to Europeana. Interested in other examples of EuropeanaSpace pilots? Have a look at, an Open Book!

Follow news about EuropeanaSpace on, the very popular magazine of partner Promoter. EuropeanaPhotography finished on January 31st, 2015. A new membership organization was formed, that will continue the work: Photoconsortium.



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EuropeanaPhotography Final Conference Day 2

The second day of the EuropeanaPhotography Final Conference was dedicated to Europeana and its family of projects. James Morley gave an interesting overview of new initiatives Europeana is engaged in, and highlighted the importance of a high quality online experience for the user. This will be enhanced by IIIF technology, now being implemented by some large collections.

The highlight of the day was the enthusing talk by Sofie Taes, curator of the Leuven localization of the All our Yesterdays exhibition. A parade of breath-taking images from Leuven’s City archive was displayed, unravelling the story of “Trading Spaces / Changing Places”, the concept behind the expo. The perfectly choreographed presentation was testimony of the enormous, meticulous work that went in the curation of this exhibition, developed in collaboration with the City archive Leuven and Erfgoedcel Leuven.


It also revealed that the City archive does host a collection of images that can stand its ground in the face of the collections of the prestigious partners in EuropeanaPhotography. Captivating moments of past city life stole the hearts of the audience.

Dressed up schoolchildren ca. 1925

Dressed up schoolchildren ca. 1925. Stadsarchief Leuven

This was followed by a collection pitch of both Leuven collections, the collection of the University and the one from the archive. The university collection is very unique, in the sense that it are all images taken with a didactic purpose, to define the canon of Art History. As such, it shows us what belonged to this canon before the second world war.

Four Europeana related project presentations rounded up the morning session, with presentations of Europeana Space, Europeana Fashion, Daguerreobase and Riches.

In the second keynote of the conference, Simon Tanner from King’s college London talked about “The Impact of Digitization on Photographic Heritage“. The slides of his presentation are available on slideshare. It addressed many issues as to how museums and collection holders can cope with the digital revolution and adapt their business models to it.

Simon Tanner

Simon Tanner

This was followed by a much appreciated lecture by Bruno Vandermeulen, digitization expert of KU Leuven, on his photography for the archaeological Sagalassos project.

Charlotte Waelde concluded the lecture series with a talk about “Digitising photographs: thinking around originality“, where she addressed novel ideas about IPR, an issue of great concern in the EuropeanaPhotography project, to which we are seeking solutions in Europeana Space.

During the day further collection pitches were shown by Divadelni Ustav, SGI,  ICIMSS,  NALIS, Alinari, MHF and PolFoto.

Holger Damgaard | 01/01/1908 The first image ever published in a Danish newspaper by a staff photographer (Holger Damgaard for the newspaper Politiken).

Holger Damgaard | 01/01/1908
The first image ever published in a Danish newspaper by a staff photographer (Holger Damgaard for the newspaper Politiken).

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EuropeanaPhotography Final Conference: day 1

The EuropeanaPhotography project ended 31st of January 2015. To mark the occasion, we organized a two-day conference in Leuven on Thursday 29 and Friday 30th of January, under the theme “The Impact of Digitization on Photographic Heritage: Memories Reframed“. The conference opened with a keynote by Elizabeth Edwards on “Shifting Assemblages: Scale, Scope and Intensity in the Practice of History“. Elizabeth took mass digitization to task with a plea for “close reading” inspired by Moretti.

Elizabeth Edwards

Elizabeth Edwards

Using examples of colonial photography, she showed the importance of a careful, historical look at the different meaning layers in photos. The lecture kicked off a series of lectures that all seemed to revolve around the issues addressed in the keynote, as an unfolding, spiralling dialogue that kept everyone glued to his seat until the end of the first day. A nothing short of brilliant overview of early photography by John Balean of TopFoto was followed by Fred Truyen’s explanation of the choices made in EuropeanaPhotography, where the possibilities of digitization to “reframe” and rediscover the early photos were discussed. Indeed, the enlarged, crystal clear reprints in the exhibition, with blistering dynamic range and razor sharp detail, obtained by directly processing the information from the glassplate have little to do with the nostalgic, somewhat yellowish appearance of original prints.

After an overview of the project by Antonella Fresa from Promoter srl, the afternoon was a mix of lectures and “collection pitches”, in which partners displayed their contributions to the total of 430.000 images that EuropeanaPhotography contributed to Europeana. Prof. Jan Baetens caught attention with his provocative lecture “Against Crowdsourcing”, in which he highlighted some serious issues in the quest to gather crowdsourced input, as is now hyping in many digitization projects.

Jan Baetens

Jan Baetens

While Stephen Brown and David Croft showed a smart algorithm to search for similar images in a collection, Alexander Supartono stunned the audience with his “Re-Visiting the Colonial Archive in the Era of Web 2.0“, where he showed how Indonesian artists re-appropriate colonial heritage in an unsettling way that undoubtedly must come as a shock to many archivalists: current Indonesian people are superimposed on colonial pictures, disclosing and disrupting the colonial setting. A better vindication of Elizabeth’s keynote was difficult to imagine. More so, it is a perfect example of the innovative “creative reuse” that Europeana wants to stimulate!

Alexander Supartono shows an example

Alexander Supartono shows an example

At the end of this long day Joanna Zylinska’s enthousiasm and rethorical talent gave the audience a much needed energy boost. Her Photomediations project is a very convincing example of Open publishing and how this unleashes new creativity.

During the day collections were presented by TopFoto, Lithuanian Art Museums, IMAGNO, CRDI, Parisienne de Photographie, Arbejdermuseet ,United Archives and Gencat.

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