Opening a file drawer of photographs used to be an enormous pleasure. By looking at them, touching them, even smelling them, it was possible to tell an older photograph from a newer one, to get a sense of the intent of the photographer from the print and the quality of the paper, to separate them out and relate to the imagery without having to resort to the dreaded “keywords.” Much of picture research was intuitive, using more senses than the eye, coming up with gems without even knowing how or why. Now, on the Web, one often needs to know what one is looking for before one can find anything so that the descriptive words can be typed in and maybe match an image that is meant to transcend those very words.
TinEye is an interesting first step. The software allows one to upload an image and same or similar images are then displayed that were found somewhere on the Web. A photographer can find if someone is using an image without permission, and in some cases find that image even if it has been partially modified. It also allows for some images to pop up that are similar but not the same, opening up new trains of thought on what an image might mean. It is heartening to be able to find an image with another image, not with words.
Maybe there could be adjustable parameters so that one can find imagery that is quite similar to the one proposed, or much less so, connected by a leap of imagination. Might it be that Robert Frank’s work has more to do with Bill Brandt than we might have thought? Or Martin Parr’s still lifes something to do with Edward Weston’s? It could be fun.