Time Flies! Celebrating 4 Years of The Commons on Flickr

Maree Austin, US star John Hubbard and cast of "Mary had a little" celebrate a birthday, Tivoli Theatre, Melbourne, 1951 / Harry Jay

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.

Musical stars Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard's wedding, St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, 16 September 1935 / photograph by Sam Hood  Billy and Graham Green from the Salvation Army Camp practise a little deceit, Collaroy Beach, ca. 1940 / photographer unknown  Artis struisvogel leest krant van oppasser / Ostrich reads newspaper of caretaker  Eerste Wereldoorlog, zeeoorlog  Celtic Tiger?  McCall Homemaking Cover, Jinx Falkenberg in Calif.  Portrait of Albert Einstein and Others (1879-1955), Physicist  04-01983 Ryan X-13 Vertijet c. 1955

Friendship 7  Richard M. Nixon and Elvis Presley at the White House  Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California  Egypt: Thebes  Photograph of First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton Posing on the Big Bird Nest Set with Big Bird...  Lyndon Johnson Watches the Apollo 11 Liftoff  Ice cased Adelie penguins after a blizzard at Cape Denison / photograph by Frank Hurley  Wally Schirra Collection Photo

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.

Quote from The Library of Congress

[Palais de la Préfecture, Nice, France (Riviera)] (LOC)   800px-Saleya6 (photo Nataraja on Wikimedia Commons)

With examples from many other institutions also:

Then by National Gallery of Scotland, now by Vo0Ds:

Old Town Edinburgh from the Calton Hill   Old Town Edinburgh from Calton Hill 2009

Then by Biblioteque Toulouse, now by janberckmans:

Château, tour des Archives, Assier, Lot  

Then by the New York Public Library, now by tarawo,

Fujiyama, from Otometoge  
??? / Mt. Fuji

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.

Louis & Lola ?-- TITANIC survivors (LOC)

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:

Servants and Curman family, Lysekil, Sweden

Quote from the Swedish National Heritage Board

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.

Egypt: Luxor   The Case of the Blue Scarab, front

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.