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Things.Photos

Things.Photos is a project I am working on right now. I've asked myself this question several times: "Why am I working on it?" I'll try to answer this question here.

We are surrounded by artefacts (or more simply, things), and they play an important role in our lives. We wake up to the ring of an alarm clock, brush our teeth with our conventaional (or electric) toothbrush, put on our clothes, wear our spectacles, have corn flakes in a bowl (that came free with the toothpaste we bought) for breakfast, check our text messages using our smartphones, slip into our shoes, tie out shoelaces, hop on a bus to work, etc. What would we do without things? How would be function? We would be completely paralysed without the things men have created. Indeed, necessity is the mother of invention, and men have risen to the occasion in meeting their necessities!

Artefacts also have an associative function, i.e., they help us to remember the past (everytime I see a bottle of Ribena at the supermarket, it reminds me of my primary school days, when my mother prepared a Tupperware of Ribena every day for me to bring along), specific events that happened (a thumbdrive may remind us of the time we lost some data due to a faulty thumb drive), and our experiences (a car may remind us of an accident we were part of, or a particularly memorable road trip we took).

Artefacts often serve as socioeconomic markers. A successful businessman may wear a Rolex watch, drive a BMW, wear a Hermès belt, write with a Mont Blanc pen, etc. Or, he may choose to make a statement by wearing the most basic Casio digital watch, driving an old Daihatsu Charade, and writing with a Pilot ballpoint pen. He uses artefacts to indicate his philosophy to life, and his attitude to success.

We also make lists of things. Before we go to the supermarket, make a list of things to buy so that we don't forget anything -- a shopping list. At the start of a recipe, there usually is a list of ingredients -- again, things to buy from a supermarket.

Here's the interesting part -- although there are catalogues of living things (the most famous being the Catalogue of Life) and even photograph libraries of animals (e.g.Joel Sartore's PhotoArk), except for books (e.g., see OCLC WorldCat), there are no catalogues of artefacts. This is lamentable, given the important role they play in our lives, and the creativity of human beings to bring about such a variety of them.

The world of images is an extremely asymmetric one. There are literally millions of photos of the Eiffel Tower in Paris and of The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, but there are not many of the day-to-day things we encounter (how many of us have a photo of the Axe Brand oil (hong eu)?, or of the mosquito coil?

I am a witness to the artifacts created in my time, and I want to record them down so that future generations will know what things mattered and what they looked like during this time.

This brings me to the objective of Things.Photos -- to pictorially document and celebrate the everyday items of our lives. The more insignificant the artefact, the less it is documented, and the more I want to celebrate it. In putting together this project, the question I have asked myself is this:

What function is an image is expected to serve? Who will Things.Photos benefit?

  • Researchers, in particular social science researchers, can use the photos to examine artefacts that may disappear some day (e.g., it's really difficult to see a foll of cameral folm these days)
  • Educators can use the photos here to teach the evolution of a product (e.g., computer storage from 5.25" floppy disks, to 3.5" non-so floppy drives, to zip drives, to CD-ROM, etc.
  • Product designers can come the Things.Photos for inspiration, and to marvel at the variety of singular artifacts (e.g., the variety of thumbdrives being sold today)
  • Consumers can use the information on Things.Photos to discover their choices.

I know of a similar project, Thngs.co, based in Russia. A project by the Japanese Ministry of Economy focusing on daily Japanese necessities is entitled 365 Charming Everyday Things [1]. This project features artifacts from museums. Things dot Photos will feature photos of everything.

In a way, Things.Photos is a union catalogue, a library catalogue that combines the catalogues of several different libraries. Things.Photos displays stuff from different stores!

I like taking photos, and so I combined information science and photography to come up with “informational photographs”, as opposed to artistic ones (there are enough of these out there, e.g., in Flickr). Photographs have the potential to convey so much information in a wordless way, information that may be critical to some people. In this way, Things.Photos is part of an experiment to understand the role of images in our lives.

To cap this off, I'll provide a list of three definitions of the word "artefact", all of them underscoring the importance of the man in the creation the creation of an artefact.

Definitions of artefact:

  1. An artefact is an ornament, tool, or other object that is made by a human being, especially one that is historically or culturally interesting.
  2. An artefact is something made or given shape by man, such as a tool or a work of art, esp an object of archaeological interest.
  3. An artefact a usually simple object (such as a tool or ornament) showing human workmanship or modification as distinguished from a natural object.

Note: The word artefact is also spelt artifact.

Reference

[1] 365 Charming Everyday Things. [Call No. TX 298 K22 from the Communication and Information Library, NTU]

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