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Vintage Image

Earlier today, my friend Martin, whose gifts as a photo researcher are legendary, sent me a link to a great site, Square America. It features part of a private collection of vernacular photography from 1900 to 1975. I call the site great because it stimulates so many different aspects of my interest in culture.

The social historian in me applauds the preservation and distribution of such ephemera, which has formed the foundation of the most interesting historical work of the past 30 years.

The digital archivist in me laments that the site has almost no metadata describing the subject or content of the images or the physical condition of the photographic prints they represent.

My inner Web evangelist loves the use of the Internet as a curatorial space. But he also wishes that, in addition to owner-created metadata, the site had social tagging and search functions to allow visitors to sort the images in multiple categories, thus enabling them to "curate" their own experience on the site and find surprising juxtapositions among otherwise unrelated photos.

The head of the media ecologist in me hurts at the remediative implications of visiting a Web site that posts images of photographs of women and the events of November 1963, as they appeared on a TV screen.

The voyeur on my left shoulder gets a cheap thrill looking at pictures of people I don't know getting married, sleeping, enjoying summer, and even taking part in what looks like a key party.

The privacy conscience who sits on my right shoulder wonders if some—even one?—of the people pictured in the photographs are still alive and know that images of their younger selves are posted on the Web?

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