Back in early 2008, some clever folks at the U.S. Library of Congress and Flickr collaborated to create a pilot project with two key goals: To increase exposure to the hidden treasures held in the world’s public photography archives, and to show how your input and knowledge can help make these collections even richer.
To achieve these goals, a special rights statement — ‘No known copyright restrictions’ — was created to provide a copyright framework allowing institutions to add their photos to Flickr and define how the public could use their work through their own rights statement.
That project became known as The Commons on Flickr.
The Commons started with 1,500 photos from a single institution and has grown steadily to 56 institutions in 12 countries exhibiting over 200,000 photos. And over the last four years we have seen a ton of engagement from the Flickr community with over 130,000 comments and nearly 7 million favorites on these images.
What we’ve learnt since launch
Right from the start, it was clear that these rich archives had the power to bring people together to make light work of viewing and interpreting photographs. It was also clear that institutions sharing their interesting photography archives combined with a passionate community were the right ingredients to make something very special happen, bringing together personal stories and collective wisdom.
Using the collaborative tools on Flickr, such as comments, tags and notes has helped institutions and members communicate and contribute details around the archival photography.
“We loved how viewers took advantage of Flickr’s visually-oriented note tool to point out particular details of the photographs, and we marveled at the ways in which commenters offered connections to related images and resources that helped explain the pictures.”- Barbara Orbach Natanson from the Library of Congress.
There have been instances where Flickr members contributed context and story-telling around a photo which was then verified by the institutions and even added to the official records of that photo.
From The Library of Congress’s set Mystery Pictures – Solved! members were able to identify the mystery location of the photo and provide modern-day photos of that very location.
With examples from many other institutions also:
It’s also heart-warming to browse the Library of Congress’ set Great Comments! THANK YOU!
“Flickr members have found family members through the photographs, they’ve helped commemorate individuals whose stories aren’t well known but deserve to be remembered, they’ve solved mysteries, and they’ve helped us all appreciate the technology and art of photography.”- Barbara Orbach Natanson from the Library of Congress.
Members were also able to help identify these survivors of the Titanic.
The photo with the given title “Louis & Lola ?– TITANIC survivors (LOC)”
was revealed to be actually orphans of the Titanic disaster, French brothers Michel (age 4) and Edmond Navratil (age 2) with the nicknames Lolo and Mamon.
Family relatives have been identified within photographs in The Commons:
The power of photography to bring people together
We’ve been delighted to see how the power of photography brings people together, which we’ve seen most clearly with groups such as the Flickr Commons group, the community-created site indicommons, offline community meet ups and the creative uses of Commons photos by members utilizing the No Known Copyright framework.
Many thanks to the team at the Library of Congress and George Oates who founded The Commons on Flickr, all of the additional 55 Commons institutions that have joined over the course of four years, and last but not least to you, the Flickr community, who have made The Commons what it is today and never cease to amaze us with your creativity and passion for photography. Whee!
Photos from State Library of New South Wales collection, Nationaal Archief, National Library of Ireland on The Commons, George Eastman House, Smithsonian Institution, San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives, NASA on The Commons, The U.S. National Archives, Brooklyn Museum, The Library of Congress, cercamon, National Galleries of Scotland Commons, Vo0Ds, Bibliothèque de Toulouse, janberckmans, New York Public Library, tarawo, Swedish National Heritage Board, and pennylrichardsca.