Google’s LIFE Photos


Arthur Rothstein

From Virginia Heffernan at IHT:

Go to the Google image-search page and you’ll see a link for the searchable Life material, which has been online for about four months. Images of Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and an Apollo 11 astronaut advertise the holdings. Sounds like a happy place to pass an hour or two. But the home page for the archive has little charm, and the categories assigned to what are presumably the most exciting photographic subjects (“people,” “places,” 1860-1970 by decade) don’t exactly tantalize. Then, within these categories, you find some head-scratchers. Interested in “culture”? Here are photos of “railroad.” Drawn to “events”? You might like these shots of “World’s Fair,” “Academy Awards” or “Vietnam War.”

Captions, where they exist, vary widely in tone. Civil War photos come with newspaper-quality captions. A haunting Aug. 17, 1864, photo by A.J. Riddle is said to show “Inmates digging mass grave for their dead at Andersonville Prison during Civil War.” By contrast, a 1951 photo of a couple sitting under a tree is explained only as “Football Game, Football Players.” Almost all of the captions, like “young upcoming starlet Marilyn Monroe,” seem to be taken straight from the period, suggesting that Google saw no need to update or enrich them.

Most dispiriting of all is that Google doesn’t let viewers page through, photo by photo. The meditative slide-show rhythm – click, click, study, click, gaze, click, stare – is impossible to establish here. After looking at a photo you have to return to a page of thumbnails or a row of haphazardly related images and then select another to blow up. Though you’re permitted to search by size, content and color, the groupings of thumbnails still often lack rhyme and reason.

Read the whole thing here

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