Between re-production and re-presentation: The implementation of photographic art reproduction in the documentation of museum collections online

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Museums extend their visibility beyond the physical institutions by providing online collections. By doing this, the museums seek to make a whole collection accessible to visitors online and, as a result, to make the cultural heritage accessible to a broader spectrum of society. Although the collections are represented under the inherent conditions of the graphical user interface, online collections are based on earlier forms of representation, and have implemented their principles. To find precursors and influences on current online collections the following research questions are discussed: What influence has photography had on the inventory processes and the visibility of museum collections? What kind of remaking happened with the combination of text and image in classifying systems at the turn of the 20th century? What effect has this early remake had on current online collections? This article explores one early remaking of a museum collection. The Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (The Museum of Arts and Crafts Hamburg) started to use photography as an addition to text based classification systems. Contemporaneously the photographic reproductions were used as an illustration for the depicted museum objects in publications. The first employee of the museum, Wilhelm Weimar, primarily made sketches of museum objects and in 1897 started to photograph them. As a result 1700 glass plate negatives in three different sizes were produced, which mainly show museum objects or details of them. In this article the photographic art reproduction on glass plate negatives from Wilhelm Weimar are analyzed. In a second step the history of index cards introduces a classification system that became omnipresent in libraries and all kind of offices since the late 19th century. In the Museum of Arts and Crafts Hamburg index cards were illustrated with images, and prints mounted on cardboard provided more accessible representations of the depicted objects, which were held in storage. Finally, after a review of this early remaking at the turn of the 20th century, the article makes comparisons with current museum online collections. Six principles in online collections are ascertained where elements, arrangements or techniques are related to photographic art reproductions and classification systems of the late 19th century. The analysis of influences coming from physical archival processes helps to understand current GUIs and fosters questions for exploring new remakes of online collections.

Original languageEnglish
Article number10
JournalOpen Library of Humanities
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)1-35
Number of pages35
Publication statusPublished - 10.09.2018