SPI was a virtual institution launched in 2006 that was founded in lieu of a physical photography museum at the Smithsonian. Along with core strategic objectives such as branding the new museum and providing literacy tools to help visitors learn the visual language of photography, the website featured an interactive gateway to the images through an interface called "Enter the Frame".
The homepage featured "trailers" to preview the collection's photographic assets, making the images come alive. I conceptualized, curated, and storyboarded three distinct homepage animations set to music that showcased some of the collection's most compelling photographs. Image sequences in each movie were punctuated with stats such as "5000 snowflakes", "50,000 fish", and 180,000 science photos" as a way to introduce the staggering depth of the collection's 13 million photographs.
How do you make 13 million photographs accessible to the public for the very first time?
In the mid-2000s, keywords and image tagging was introduced as a way to classify and add metadata for image searchability. My team at Cabengo adopted this new classification system for an interactive multi-criteria search interface which allowed users to access the Smithsonian's archives starting with a sample set of 2000 photographs. Each row of color-coded keywords corresponded to a physical Smithsonian museum or research center, and pre-curated sequences by Smithsonian staff offered "mini-tours" into the collection. But users were also allowed to tag images and create and share their own sequences, thus breaking down the barriers that often exist between museum and visitor.
This early use-case of image tagging and user-generated content was an invitation to contribute to an ongoing dialogue about how pictures and words mean different things to different people at different times.