A tragedy foretold: Brazil’s national museum hit by huge fire

On the evening of September 2, 2018, a massive fire broke out at the National Museum of Brazil at Quinta da Boa Vista, Rio de Janeiro, destroying almost all of the historical collection spanning over two hundred years, which included over twenty million items in its catalog. In addition to this rich collection, the building itself was the former residence of the Emperor of Brazil. It was extremely damaged, experiencing cracks, the collapse of its roof, and failures of the internal slabs.

Wikimedia Commons initiative is helping to recover part of the historical collection

One of the most immediate challenges is to recover and preserve images of the museum building and its collection, as our visual memory of these items is now our main asset. Anyone who has visited the museum and taken photographs of the buildings and its objects or someone who knows another person who has taken photographs can help: create an account at the Wikimedia Commons and upload the relevant photos.

Visit the Wikipedia page of the National Museum of Brazil project for more information.

Wikipedia page of the National Museum of Brazil project

 

IMS Photography Research Grant

In order to stimulate the research of the history of Brazilian photography and the works of its collection, Instituto Moreira Salles, holder of one of the most relevant photographic collections in Brazil, is promoting the first edition of the IMS Photography Research Grant. An unprecedented project will be selected based on the production of Marc Ferrez (1843-1923), one of the most important Brazilian photographers of the 19th century, whose work has been under the custody of IMS since 1998.

Entries are from July 16 to August 31, 2018, and the final result will be announced in October.

Grant announcement, application form and additional information here (Portuguese only)

A visual catalog of material culture of Amsterdam

“Urban histories can be told in a thousand ways. The archaeological research project of the North/South metro line lends the River Amstel a voice in the historical portrayal of Amsterdam. The Amstel was once the vital artery, the central axis, of the city. Along the banks of the Amstel, at its mouth in the IJ, a small trading port originated about 800 years ago. At Damrak and Rokin in the city center, archaeologists had a chance to physically access the riverbed, thanks to the excavations for the massive infrastructure project of the North/South metro line between 2003 and 2012”.

Bellow the surface website presents the scope and methods of this research project, detailing the data processing and of approximately 700,000 finds. The website provides access to the photographs of more than 19,000 finds. The access to the complete dataset hasn’t been released yet, but a disclaimer note informs it will be shortly available.

In the main user interface (the object overview page), thumbnails of all 18.978 objects are arranged by estimated time of creation (period varies from 2005 AC to 119.000 BC). Users can scroll vertically along time with a mouse. A panel of facets filters the objects according to time range, object function (communication & exchange, personal artifacts & clothing, etc.), material (metal, synthetics, etc.) and location (Damrak or Rokin metro stations). The time range facet has an interesting feature: it is also a visual variable that shows patterns of distribution at a glance. The other facets indicate the objects occurrence through absolute numbers. Facets don’t require a preceding search and enable refinement (selecting an option of a facet changes the options occurrence in the other facets.

The main user interface

Selecting a thumbnail of an object reveals detailed information about it (close viewing). A bigger photography t is shown followed by detailed information about the object properties.

Close view of a selected object
Scrolling the page down reveals detailed information about the object

This research was conducted by the Department of Archaeology, Monuments and Archaeology (MenA), City of Amsterdam, in cooperation with the Chief Technology Office (CTO), City of Amsterdam.

IMPA and IMS team up with focus on photographic heritage

The Institute of Pure and Applied Mathematics (IMPA), one of the most important Brazilian research centers, and The Moreira Salles Institute (IMS), holder of one of the most relevant cultural collections of Brazil, signed a research agreement aiming IMS’s photographic heritage. Two institutes apparently of such a distinct nature, but which embraced the challenge of bridging research and development in Mathematics, Design and Culture. I hope this partnership illustrates how productive and valuable interdisciplinary and collaborative knowledge can be! I feel privileged to contribute as a designer and researcher on this project! Hands on!

The article that follows has been translated from IMPA’s website (original article in Pt)

IMPA and IMS team up with focus on photographic heritage

Rua do Ouvidor, em 1890. Foto de Marc Ferrez

Imagine strolling down a Rue de l’Ouvidor filled with perfumeries, shop windows with the latest fashion in Paris […] as registered by Marc Ferrez in 1890. Thanks to a partnership with IMPA, new forms of enjoyment of the invaluable photographic collection of Instituto Moreira Salles (IMS) will emerge, as, perhaps, immersive experiences in iconic spaces of the history of Rio de Janeiro.

Renowned in the areas in which they act, IMPA and IMS signed on Monday (25) a collaborative research term, a promising step that will show how productive and valuable the intersection between institutes that are dedicated to Mathematics and the Culture.

The collaboration will be led by Visgraf, the Vision and Computer Graphics Laboratory of IMPA – created in 1989, with ample expertise in the field and a series of national and international partnerships – and IMS Photography Coordination.

With 2 million images, the collection brings together one of the most important collections of the 19th century in Brazil, including that of the pioneer Marc Ferrez (1843-1923), the main photographer of the period. IMS also has relevant collections from almost the entire 20th century and saves no effort to incorporate records from the current century.

The IMPA general director, Marcelo Viana, praised the convergence between the two institutes. The Visgraf coordinator, Luiz Velho, considered the partnership a way to validate and transfer to the society the work developed at IMPA: “It’s a way of empowering the culture of Brazil. The IMS collection is invaluable and, frankly, we can do unprecedented things” he said, estimating that the collaborative agreement would be long-term.

The IMS executive director, Flávio Pinheiro, observed that faced with the massive collection of the institution, it is inexorable to think about the impact caused by the new technologies: “It’s a huge job and a path that we needed to break through. I think georeferencing photographies is a start, something important, but there are unsuspected things ahead, such as what artificial intelligence and machine learning can do with images.”

Platform allows immersive experience

Dedicated to computational mathematics applied to media, Visgraf conducts research and development in several fields, such as visualization and image processing, animation and multimedia and virtual and augmented reality, with projects that go through the elaboration of audiovisual narratives, reality systems virtual, data monitoring and visualization platforms, among others.

For those who still wonder the connection between Mathematics and photography, it is worth knowing that algorithms can be developed, for example, to extract information from images. Techniques can allow computers to recognize faces or objects in large-scale visual databases, such as IMS photographic collection.

“Essentially, you have a mathematical model that is an abstraction of representations of some sort, and everything revolves around that. The area where we work at Visgraf goes from very technical things, like super-resolution that takes an image and enlarges it beyond the limit the photo was captured by the equipment, to image analyses and understanding. A photo has metadata that can be referenced”, noted Velho.

Under the agreement, IMPA lent to IMS a unique device in Brazil, developed by Google, which combines several applications for viewing content. The Liquid Galaxy is a platform consisting of screens with an angle of about 180 degrees that allow a panoramic view of videos and photos, enabling interactive tours in an immersive 3D environment. It will be used in research and demonstrations, said Velho.

About the equipment, Sergio Burgi, coordinator of IMS photography, highlighted the enormous potential a platform has when it integrates several databases, such as photographs and cartographies, among others. “There are many possibilities that are not yet effective in the collections. It’s an absurdly new challenge in the field of information processing conciliating intellectual and technical metadata”, he emphasized.

Bruno Buccalon, Julia Giannella, Luiz Velho, Marcelo Viana, Flávio Pinheiro and Sergio Burgi

The management of the partnership will be accompanied by Visgraf’s assistant researcher, Julia Giannella, and the IMS’s technical assistant, Bruno Buccalon. With the outstanding IMS collection and IMPA resources, the collaboration will be long and productive, esteem Velho: “It will work very well and with scientific rigor. I think we are in a holistic moment of humanity, of integration of Exact and Social sciences. This type of partnership we are doing here is innovative. The sky is the limit”, concluded the coordinator of Visgraf, about the results of the agreement.

Experiments by Google explore how machines understand artworks

Google Arts & Culture initiative promotes experiments at the crossroads of art and technology created by artists and creative coders. I selected two experiments that apply Machine Learning methods to detect objects in photographs and artworks and generate machine-based tags. These tags are then used to enhance accessibility and exploration of cultural collections.

Tags and Life Tags

These two demo experiments explore how computers read and tag artworks through a Machine Learning approach.

Tags: without the intervention of humans, keywords were generated by an algorithm also used in Google Photos, which analyzed the artworks by looking at the images without any metadata.

The user interface shows a list of tags (keywords) followed by its number of occurrence in the artwork collection. Selecting the tag ‘man’ reveals artworks containing what an intelligent machine understands to be a man. Hovering an artwork reveals other tags detected on that specific representation.

The user interface shows a list of tags (keywords) followed by its number of occurrence in the artwork collection. Selecting the tag ‘man’ reveals artworks containing what an intelligent machine understands to be a man. Hovering an artwork reveals other tags detected on that specific representation.

Life Tags: organizes over 4 million images from the Life magazine archives into an interactive interface that looks like an encyclopedia. The terms of the “encyclopedia” were generated by an algorithm based on a deep neural network used in Google photo search that has been trained on millions of images and labels to recognize categories for labels and pictures.

Labels were clustered into categories using a nearest neighbor algorithm, which finds related labels based on image feature vectors. Each image has multiple labels linked to the elements that are recognized. The full-size image viewer shows dotted lines revealing the objects detected by the computer.

The overall interface of Life Tags looks like an encyclopedia
Kitchen is a categoria clustering labels using a nearest neighbor algorithm.
Selecting a specific photo expands it and reveals the labels recognized by the machine.

Digital Humanities 2018: a selection of sessions I would like to attend

As Digital Humanities 2018 is approaching, I took a time to look at its program. Unfortunately, I didn’t have contributions to submit this year so I won’t attend the Conference. But I had the pleasure to be a reviewer this edition and I’ll also stay tuned on Twitter during the Conference!

My main topic of interest in Digital Humanities bridges the analysis of large-scale visual archives and graphical user interface to browse and make sense of them. So I selected the following contributions I would like to attend if I were at DH2018.

Workshop

Distant Viewing with Deep Learning: An Introduction to Analyzing Large Corpora of Images

by Taylor Arnold, Lauren Tilton (University of Richmond)

Taylor and Lauren coordinate the Distant Viewing, a Laboratory which develops computational techniques to analyze moving image culture on a large scale. Previously, they contributed on Photogrammar, a web-based platform for organizing, searching, and visualizing the 170,000 photographs. This project was first presented ad Digital Humanities 2016. (abstract here) and I’ve mentioned this work in my presentation at the HDRIO2018 (slides here, Portuguese only).

Panels
  • Beyond Image Search: Computer Vision in Western Art History, with Miriam Posner, Leonardo Impett, Peter Bell, Benoit Seguin and Bjorn Ommer;
  • Computer Vision in DH, with Lauren Tilton, Taylor Arnold, Thomas Smits, Melvin Wevers, Mark Williams, Lorenzo Torresani, Maksim Bolonkin, John Bell, Dimitrios Latsis;
  • Building Bridges With Interactive Visual Technologies, with Adeline Joffres, Rocio Ruiz Rodarte, Roberto Scopigno, George Bruseker, Anaïs Guillem, Marie Puren, Charles Riondet, Pierre Alliez, Franco Niccolucci

Paper session: Art History, Archives, Media

  • The (Digital) Space Between: Notes on Art History and Machine Vision Learning, by Benjamin Zweig (from Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art);
  • Modeling the Fragmented Archive: A Missing Data Case Study from Provenance Research, by Matthew Lincoln and Sandra van Ginhoven (from Getty Research Institute);
  • Urban Art in a Digital Context: A Computer-Based Evaluation of Street Art and Graffiti Writing, by Sabine Lang and Björn Ommer (from Heidelberg Collaboratory for Image Processing);
  • Extracting and Aligning Artist Names in Digitized Art Historical Archives by Benoit Seguin, Lia Costiner, Isabella di Lenardo, Frédéric Kaplan (from EPFL, Switzerland);
  • Métodos digitales para el estudio de la fotografía compartida. Una aproximación distante a tres ciudades iberoamericanas en Instagram (by Gabriela Elisa Sued)
Paper session: Visual Narratives
  • Computational Analysis and Visual Stylometry of Comics using Convolutional Neural Networks, by Jochen Laubrock and David Dubray (from University of Potsdam, Germany);
  • Automated Genre and Author Distinction in Comics: Towards a Stylometry for Visual Narrative, by Alexander Dunst and Rita Hartel (from University of Paderborn, Germany);
  • Metadata Challenges to Discoverability in Children’s Picture Book Publishing: The Diverse BookFinder Intervention, by Kathi Inman Berens, Christina Bell (from Portland State University and Bates College, United States of America)
Poster sessions:
  • Chromatic Structure and Family Resemblance in Large Art Collections — Exemplary Quantification and Visualizations (by Loan Tran, Poshen Lee, Jevin West and Maximilian Schich);
  • Modeling the Genealogy of Imagetexts: Studying Images and Texts in Conjunction using Computational Methods (by Melvin Wevers, Thomas Smits and Leonardo Impett);
  • A Graphical User Interface for LDA Topic Modeling (by Steffen Pielström, Severin Simmler, Thorsten Vitt and Fotis Jannidis)

Artscope: a grid-based visualization for SFMOMA cultural collection

Existing projects in visualization-based interfaces (interfaces which enables navigation through visualization) for cultural collections usually focusses on making their content more accessible to specialists and the public.

Possibly one of the first attempts to explore new forms of knowledge discovery in cultural collections was SFMOMA ArtScope, developed by Stamen Design in 2007 (now decommissioned). The interface allows users to explore more than 6,000 artworks in a grid-based and zoomable visualization. Navigating the collection follows a visualization-based first paradigm which is mainly exploratory (although the interface enables navigation through keyword search, the visualization canvas is clearly protagonist). The artworks’ thumbnails are visually organized by when they were purchased by the museum. The user is able to pan the canvas by dragging it and the lens serves as a selection tool, which magnifies the selected work and reveals detailed information about the selected piece.

ArtScope is an attractive interface which offers the user an overview of the size and content of SFMOMA’s collection. However, the artworks in the canvas are only organized by time of acquisition, a not very informative feature for users (maybe just for the staff museum). Other dimensions (authorship, creation date, technique, subject, etc.) can’t either be filtered and visually organized in the structure of the canvas.

The video bellow illustrates the interface navigation:

Gugelmann Galaxy

Gugelmann Galaxy is an interactive demo by Mathias Bernhard exploring itens from the Gugelmann Collection, a group of 2336 works by the Schweizer Kleinmeister – Swiss 18th century masters. Gugelmann Galaxy is built on Three.js, a lightweight javascript library, allowing to create animated 3D visualizations in the browser using WebGL.

The images are grouped according to specific parameters that are automatically calculated by image analysis and text analysis from metadata. A high-dimensional space is then projected onto a 3D space, while preserving topological neighborhoods between images in the original space. More explanation about the dimensionality reduction can be read here.

The user interface allows four types of image arrangement: by color distribution, by technique, by description and by composition.  As the mouse hovers over the items, an info box with some metadata is displayed on the left. The user can also perform rotation, zooming, and panning.

The author wrote on his site:

The project renounces to come up with a rigid ontology and forcing the items to fit in premade categories. It rather sees clusters emerge from attributes contained in the images and texts themselves. Groupings can be derived but are not dictated.

 

My presentation at HDRio2018

During the paper session “Social networks and visualizations”, held on April 11 at HDRio2018 Congress, I presented the work “Perspectivas para integração do Design nas Humanidades Digitais frente ao desafio da análise de artefatos visuais”  (“Perspectives for integrating Design in Digital Humanities in the face of the challenge of visual artifacts analysis”).

In this work, I outline initial considerations of a broader and ongoing research that seeks to reflect on the contributions offered by the field of Design in the conception of a graphical user interface that, along with computer vision and machine learning technologies, support browsing and exploration of large collections of images.

I believe my contribution raises three main discussions for the field of Digital Humanities:

  1. The investigation of large collections of images (photographs, paintings, illustrations, videos, GIFs, etc.) using image recognition techniques through a Machine Learning approach;
  2. The valorization of texts and media produced on social networks as a valid source of cultural heritage for Digital Humanities studies;
  3. Integration of Design principles and methodologies (HCI and visualization techniques) in the development of tools to retrieve, explore and visualize large image collections.

Slides from this presentation can be accessed here (Portuguese only).

About machine capabilities versus human sensitivities

For Recognition, an artificial intelligence program that associates Tate’s masterpieces and news photographs provided by Reuters, there are visual or thematic similarities between the photo of a woman with a phrase on her face that reads #foratemer (out Temer) during a protest against a constitutional amendment known as PEC 55 and the portrait of an aristocrat man of the seventeenth century in costumes that denote his sovereignty and authority. In times when intelligent and thinking machines, like chatbots, are a topic widely discussed I wonder if the algorithms that created the dialogue between these two images would be aware of the conflicting but no less interesting relationship between resistance and power established between them.