The American artist-photographer Taryn Simon has the compositional chops of a master cinematographer, the ace reporter’s nose for a story and the semiotician’s sense of the slipperiness of meaning. For her Guest Editor slot in 2012 (W*163), she presented two projects that look at how we organise and understand images in a digital world and the analogue charm of the New York Public Library picture collection
Folder: Beards & mustaches. The Picture Collection Folder: Costume - Veil. The Picture Collection
The Picture Collection
On the third floor of the Mid-Manhattan Library on Fifth Avenue at 40th Street are housed 1.2m prints, postcards, posters and images carefully clipped from books and magazines. Established in 1915, it is largest circulating picture library in the world.
The New York Public Library Picture Collection has been an important resource for writers, historians, artists, filmmakers, fashion companies, costume designers and advertising agencies. The artist Diego Rivera used the collection while working on his Man at the Crossroads mural at the Rockefeller Center. (At the time, Rivera noted how the scope and the limits of the collection might shape contemporary visions of America.) Andy Warhol was also a frequent user of the library, especially keen on borrowing advertising images, many of which were never returned.
The majority of the collection is comprised of pictures cut from books and magazines. Romana Javitz, head of the collection from 1929 to 1968, recruited 40 artists through the Works Progress Administration during the 1930s to help clip, cull and catalogue the collection.
Images are currently collected under 12,000 subject headings. Individuals with a New York Public Library card can borrow up to 60 clippings at a time.
Folder: Snow – Avalanches. The Picture Collection
Folder: Abandoned buildings & towns. The Picture Collection
Folder: Sunlight. The Picture Collection
Folder: Hair — Combing. The Picture Collection
Folder: Handshaking. The Picture Collection
Folder: Chiaroscuro. The Picture Collection Folder: Alleys. The Picture Collection Folder: Waiting. The Picture Collection
Created by artist Taryn Simon and programmer Aaron Swartz, Image Atlas investigates cultural differences and similarities by indexing top image results for given search terms across local engines throughout the world. Visitors can refine or expand their comparisons from the 57 countries currently available, and sort by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or alphabetical order.
Image Atlas interrogates the possibility of a universal visual language and questions the supposed innocence and neutrality of the algorithms upon which search engines rely. www.imageatlas.org
Image Atlas Selection, “Jews”, 4:45 PM (Eastern Standard Time)