Alex Wright

Magic Lantern Slides

June 25, 2004

Another eye-opening historical image collection, this one from UC-Berkeley: Magic Lantern slides. These hand-colored glass slides, precursors to film transparencies, enjoyed a brief heyday in the early 20th century.

I love the spectral quality of these images, with their handmade illuminations and images of everyday life. They seem a world away from all those dour, militaristic Matthew Brady prints. Some of these people almost look like they're having fun (old-fashioned, scowling Victorian fun).

These photos rival anything in the DPL Western History collection (which I mentioned herea few days back), but alas the collection suffers from poor cataloging, with a conspicuous lack of any metadata beyond an arbitrary title field - rendering this collection far less useful than the DPL collection, which employs full MARC catalog records to record dates, subjects, ownership and copyright info.

The new DIG35 standard looks like the best hope for standardizing photo metadata, by encoding descriptive fields directly in the image file; but I'm not aware of any Web search engines that do anything with this data (though I could easily be wrong about this).

File under: User Experience

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