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Open Content, An Idea Whose Time Has Come
August 17, 2013 8:08 AM   Subscribe

This week the Getty Museum announced that it is making 4600 digital images of public domain materials in its collections freely available, with plans to release more as their status is confirmed. You can browse the collection here, or take a look at some selected highlights. Want more free images? Try these repositories.
posted by Horace Rumpole (30 comments total) 91 users marked this as a favorite

Excellent project. Terrible execution.

I'm more than a little dismayed at how awfully (and I do mean awfully) lo-res these are.

It's also kind of a pain that clicking "Enlarge" forces a scaled popup which I must right-click and View Image to see the file actual size.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:51 AM on August 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sys Rq, there are very high res versions of everything, the link is just tricky to find. Click the "View Record" link, then click "Download" and fill out the little form. Most are around 3500-4000 pixels.
posted by oulipian at 8:55 AM on August 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

The about page here says everything is a minimum of 300 dpi, which certainly isn't extraordinarily high, but it's pretty good for most purposes. It's the standard resolution the Harvard Library imaging lab uses.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:58 AM on August 17, 2013

It appears this is an outgrowth of a project I briefly worked on back in the 1980s, the Getty Art History Information Project, later to become the Getty Information Institute, and later to be shut down completely. The project goal was to create a computer database with the provenance of every significant historic art object in the world, and to store a B&W archival photograph of each object. The funding was enormous, and much of it went to museums to cover the cost of photography and data collection. We used to joke that they wanted to make a record of all known art, and store it in an atomic bomb proof bunker, to be a permanent record for the aliens that would come visit earth after it annihilated itself in a nuclear war. 80s cold war humor, ha ha. But that wasn't really so far from the truth. The new Getty Museum is constructed deep in the side of a mountain, and part of the reason for that site is that it the deepest part of the site, the storage facilities, are impervious to nuclear attack.

Well anyway, it is obvious that keeping a record of every artwork is completely impossible, especially if you want to keep a physical photograph of each one. You'd have to make ridiculous decisions, like how important an object does it have to be, before you want to catalog it, or how old does it have to be, since new works are being created constantly and you couldn't possibly catalog them all. And the most historic objects have poor provenance records. This would become a particular embarrassment to the Getty when it was revealed that some of their most valuable artworks had forged provenances to cover up their theft and illegal sale to the museum, or that the works themselves were forgeries.

So it appears this is the tip of the spear. These are the most historically valuable works that the Getty can publicly release at this time, and more to com. That is a refreshing contrast to museums like the National Portrait Gallery of London, which released its collection online as high resolution images with DRM, which a guy broke and downloaded their collection and then the museum threatened him with criminal charges.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:01 AM on August 17, 2013 [8 favorites]

Sys Rq, there are very high res versions of everything, the link is just tricky to find. Click the "View Record" link, then click "Download" and fill out the little form. Most are around 3500-4000 pixels.

posted by Sys Rq at 9:02 AM on August 17, 2013

I had a hard time finding the hi-res images at first, too.

It's still a little annoying that they require filling out a form to access the images, but it's a good step forward. I hope more museums follow their lead; there are too many old pieces of art that should be part of the public domain but are simply unavailable.
posted by jiawen at 9:03 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

There's a bit more information on how to download and the parameters in the FAQ, including this paragraph:
Why does the Getty request information as part of the download?
We ask for a description of who will be using the image (individual or organization) and for what general purpose. We hope that this information will allow us to continually improve access under our Open Content Program. Publication users are asked for more detailed information so that we may maintain our collection bibliography.
Hopefully, the feedback that you give will only make the project better in the future, and knowing where the images have been used in publications is especially awesome-- I use the collection bibliographies of objects all the time. I admit that I hope this didn't come at the expense of the Getty's once robust on-site educational department, which was eviscerated by layoffs last year so that they could be replaced by volunteers. This article from the LA Times does mention contemporaneous cuts and changes imaging services that presage the immense amount of work that must have gone into this portal.
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:26 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is really great, hopefully other museums see the light and follow suit.
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:42 AM on August 17, 2013

I spent some time browsing through these yesterday, here are some favourite finds:

Albrecht Dürer - Stag Beetle
Odilon Redon - Baronne de Domecy
Carl Rottmann - The Ruins of the Imperial Palaces in Rome
Gustave Le Gray - Curtain of Trees
Joris Hoefnagel - Sour Orange, Terrestrial Mollusk, and Larkspur
Louis Carrogis de Carmontelle - Figures Walking in a Parkland
Thomas Ender - Wooded River Landscape in the Alps
Auguste Hippolyte Collard - Pont du Point du Jour
Vincent van Gogh - Arles: View from the Wheatfields
Carleton Watkins - Six-part Panorama of San Francisco
Joseph-Benoît Suvée - The Invention of Drawing
Georges Seurat - Madame Seurat, the Artist's Mother
Unknown - Blank Page
Edgar Degas - Man in Profile
Master of the Jardin... - Alexander Attacks the City of Tyre and Alexander Orders the Destruction of His Army's Excess Baggage
posted by oulipian at 9:43 AM on August 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Relevant AskMe from a few days ago
posted by XMLicious at 10:06 AM on August 17, 2013

The Getty has been paying to digitize great art books and putting them up on the Internet with no restrictions: Books.

One of my fav's is this version of Euclid. Thank you, Getty.
posted by brewsterkahle at 10:16 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Excellent project. Terrible execution.

I agree. Compare this one with the one I took of the same painting. Sure, mine has some glare from the overhead sky lights—I'm not a professional and this was a quick photo with a cheap camera—but it's much bigger and shows the frame. I wish museums would show the paintings in their frames.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:39 AM on August 17, 2013

Compare this one with the one

What's the name? Comparing the full download might be worthwhile.
posted by sammyo at 10:46 AM on August 17, 2013

Ah this (I don't know if this link will work for others without the form dialog) (23MB)

Henri Rousseau, A Centennial of Independence

It's not the best UI but the download link just below the photo is not all that obscure. Pretty great resource.
posted by sammyo at 10:54 AM on August 17, 2013

Ah, that is nicer. There is no download on the search result, you have to view the record to get the download link. I deem that resolution acceptable, but I'd still like to see the frames too.
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:05 AM on August 17, 2013

This was my favorite when visiting:
A Hermit Praying in the Ruins of a Roman Temple
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:18 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

oulipian: "Unknown - Blank Page"

Great find, now to spend the rest of my weekend downloading the Prayer Book of Charles the Bold.
posted by zinon at 11:19 AM on August 17, 2013

This one reminds me of a certain MeFiMusic Featured Track.
posted by weston at 11:23 AM on August 17, 2013

A few of my picks (paintings):

link 1
link 2
link 3
link 4
link 5
link 6
link 7
link 8
link 9
link 10
posted by victory_laser at 11:28 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Great links, victory_laser. I particularly like the Monets...and not a water lily in the bunch!
posted by mono blanco at 1:52 PM on August 17, 2013

Hmmm, this is great. I see they haven't done Ensor's jaw-dropping "Christ's Entry Into Brussels" yet, though. One of the Getty's most extraordinary--and historically significant--works.
posted by yoink at 2:26 PM on August 17, 2013

Oh man, this is like crack to me. Seeing a work in person is great, but it's not always possible, and you can't always stick your nose right up to the piece either. Being able to zoom way in to a high res digital image is the next best thing.
posted by arcolz at 3:04 PM on August 17, 2013

Oh my god, yes, the high-res of Degas' The Milliners is excellent.

Thank you, Horace Rumpole! (And that Atlantic article has some fascinating-looking links as well. Grazie!)
posted by kristi at 3:34 PM on August 17, 2013

Firstly, this is wonderful.

Secondly, the photography collection contains photos of naked people, portraits of dead children, and bloated corpses on Civil War battlefields and could perhaps merit a NSFW flag.
posted by cromagnon at 5:34 PM on August 17, 2013

I see they haven't done Ensor's jaw-dropping "Christ's Entry Into Brussels" yet...

I took a photo of it. Again, not the best photo, but it is an amazing painting.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:08 PM on August 17, 2013

As a graphic designer — I've been all over this since it was announced and think it's spectacular. The quality and resolution of each image are what a professional publication would have paid hundreds of dollars for not so long ago. Except in many cases the rights issues would have prevented that. The Getty is making these free for any use. I hope it's a sign of things to come.

(I don't understand, at all, the wish to have frames that would have to be cropped out for most purposes I can imagine — or the comparison to a personally shot version that can't possibly be anywhere near as colour accurate, even if its brighter tones superficially look 'pleasing'. This kind of project gives unparalleled access to the actual art.)
posted by namasaya at 11:21 AM on August 18, 2013

Well several of us failed to find the hires link the first few times, so I hereby retract my earlier complaint about that since I guess it wasn't clear. As for the frames, I happen to like seeing the paintings in context and I don't publish paintings in magazines.
posted by jeffamaphone at 1:15 PM on August 18, 2013

One issue with frames is that they're very rarely original- they can say a lot about the history of ownership but they're not necessarily a part of the artwork's design. Three dimensional frames can also make it difficult to photograph the piece. I agree that sometimes it's nice to see how things look in a gallery, something gallery catalogs often include, but I agree with the Getty's decision.
posted by jetlagaddict at 3:54 PM on August 18, 2013

I'm glad I waited until I was on my laptop to look at these. They're gorgeous.
posted by immlass at 5:28 PM on August 18, 2013

As a graphic designer — I've been all over this since it was announced and think it's spectacular. The quality and resolution of each image are what a professional publication would have paid hundreds of dollars for not so long ago. Except in many cases the rights issues would have prevented that.

And sometimes it's the museums preventing that. A few years back, I wanted to license a Grant Wood painting for an online article I wrote. Life + 70, it's still under copyright for a few more years. It would publish in London, so I contacted the UK agent for the estate. Licensing was affordable at ₤20. My editor approved, it's within budget, awesome, he sent them a check (or a cheque, I suppose). So I contacted the Detroit Institute of the Arts to get a reproduction. I figured they'd ask for a nominal fee, since we already paid the licensing fee. I figured wrong. They wanted a minimum of $900 for low rez thumbnail, too low rez for my purpose. I said we already paid the licensing fee. They said this was just a reproduction fee, but I had to pay that too. They insisted I fill out a form indicating the resolution requested, the circulation of the publication, and other details and then they would determine how much to charge. I protested. I told the guy we already paid the proper authorities for licensing fees, you don't get to double dip and collect royalties too. You have no right to assess circulation and charge more money based on the type of license, we already negotiated that with the proper rights holder. That's stealing money from the estate, and making the work unaffordable for reproduction. You're devaluing your own works by making them impossible to use. No deal. So I contacted the rights holder again. I told them what happened. They were pretty pissed off too. I told them, they're acting like they're agents for the estate, and just keeping the money, they ought to sue and recover the money. The guy said suing museums to collect royalties is not a winning proposition. So I just ganked a crappy scan off the web and used that in my article. It would have been nice to have a quality photo at about 400x200 but apparently the DIA is too greedy to allow that, they wanted $1500 for a 30 day temporary license.

I was astonished at how the DIA abused access fees. This is another type of Copyfraud. They're charging for use of photos based on physical barriers to access. The work could be out of copyright and they'd still charge huge fees just to get a good pic. It will be out of copyright soon, so they decided to milk that cow for all it's worth. Now Detroit is in bankruptcy and they're probably going to be forced to sell the entire collection. Good. Now it will go to museums that act in the public interest, that are trustees of their collection, not exploiting it for illegally obtained pseudo-royalties.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:27 AM on August 19, 2013

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