July 14, 2011

MMMMetadata, ephemera, and image aggregator culture

I just read a zine/art text from Edition MK: DDDDoomed—Or, Collectors & Curators of the Image: A Brief Future History of the Image Aggregator, which forms Vol. I of VIII of a series titled Img Ctrl—texts regarding the contemporary image world.

Looking back at Image Aggregators (or IA, as it's referred to) from the supposed future, the argument is made that Tumblr et al destroyed contemporary visual art and the art of curation. The main culprit seems to be the IA, FFFFound!, inspiring the title, DDDDoomed. FFFFound! is an aggregation of images, mostly random, that tend to fit a certain aesthetic. Tumblr and its ilk started out inoccuous enough, but turned into an "all out style-fest." This aesthetic seems to fit what the text refers to as "hipster capital," (as opposed to cultural capital) sort of hilariously exemplified as,
"They would've effortlessly clicked their little 'like' and 'reblog' buttons in response to some viral image, posted by some anonymous, reactionary IA supporter on his Tumblr blog, of some skinny, half-naked, tousled-haired, Brooklyn-girl, shot Terry Richardson style and wearing a screen-printed t-shirt emblazoned with some snarky referential one-liner like 'I FFFFind Therefore I Am" (p.3).
To better explain the microblogging platform Tumblr, or other IAs, in the sense they are being referred to here, they are kind of like scrapbooks... but scrapbooks without any contextual meaning. On Tumblr, you can collect and compile a variety of images, quotes, or video, which can be original, swiped with or without attribution, or "reblogged." If you see another Tumblr with an image you like, there is simply a button you can click to have it reposted, or "reblogged" on your Tumblr. You can also "like" content. This could be considered curation, but DDDDoomed quotes Christian Brändle to counter this with, "Those who curate... also comment...; they evaluate, and thus it is indispensible that collectors know the background of their objects" (p.3). Although this is in regard to museums, the text argues IA's curation contributions are to the World Wide Web.

However, DDDDoomed compares IA "curators" to "wealthy collector[s] of Renaissance painting[s] [rather] than with the visual anthropologist out to record our cultures" (p.17). So with this collecting of hipster capital, the argument is made that  the purpose of (most of) these IAs is more so to feed a personal brand, rather than to contribute to culture.

IAs promote anonymity and the erasing of authorship through their format, which the text relates to playing telephone.These IAs, could have used "ordering interventions" that contemporary artists employ to respond to visual overload, such as appropriation, archiving, collage and bricolage, and typology (p.48-50). Instead, the IA is, more interested in,  "solidifying their own authorial claims on the selection and arrangement of images that were, in most cases, never theirs to begin with" (p.67).

I enjoyed reading this zine because I do have Tumblr accounts, one being Librarian Wardrobe, and also a personal one that I have more recently abandoned. I also think it's both good and bad how IAs erase metadata and make content more "free." Sometimes, it can be used in the sense of culture jamming; regardless of understanding the creation story of the artifact, using it in a different context can provide revitalized meaning; at the same time, not understanding the background of an image makes appropriation of it somewhat irrelevant. Often, Tumblrs are "style-fests," but some have intrinsic value.

What are your opinions from the perspective of libraryland? What are your favorite Tumblrs and why; do your favorites have a specific curation mission or are they based on style alone?

Edit: from brief, yet engaging discussion on Facebook, seems happy medium is appreciated, where Tumblr is fun to look at, but can also view high art and "professional" curation, too. Doesn't have to be all good or all bad. Agree!


  1. Super cool discussion! And that zine is rad.

    I've had a tumblr since 2008 and recently needed to start a separate blog for my own photos and images. My tumblr is now just an online storage space for interesting images, quotes, videos, and more. I've felt the most freedom by calling my tumblr a scrapbook or my own personal magazine section. My tumblr being online does limit what I post - the main limitation of an online collection, viewable by anybody, compared with cut and glue stick scrapbooks.

    I don't really see the damage done by tumblrs that disconnect images from their authors or sources. Reblogged images don't bother me anymore, and that's what I see tumblr is primarily for, seeing something and resharing it with others. I don't think reblogging should be mistaken for critique and discussion - dialogue needs more than a like button, reblog option, or retweeted status. Sometimes I wish people linked their tumblrs to a discussion or outside website, but overall I really dislike the "ask me" function and the one-sided question answer sessions that happen. My favorite tumblrs are ones that attempt to move away from being singular and individual displays of self-affection, and instead trying to sum up another idea of... something. Like a group project, trying to capture a vibe, or trying to add something new that the whole group will find interesting. Tumblrs are part of a whole group of people paging through your own magazine.

    Designating tumblrs as "style-fests" is an interesting way to put it, I like that term! I'd say that anybody's style-fest is actually pretty cool and informative, showing what that person is interested in. Also Tumblr makes it so easy to start sharing images. Part of the process, which becomes part of the style, is maximum ease, like an instantaneous "check this out" vibe.

  2. David! I love what you say here, "My favorite tumblrs are ones that attempt to move away from being singular and individual displays of self-affection, and instead trying to sum up another idea of... something. Like a group project, trying to capture a vibe, or trying to add something new that the whole group will find interesting."

    I completely agree and really do also love the Tumblrs that have a theme and are expressing something in particular that isn't as narcissistic/image-driven. Something I've noticed in the Tumblrs that are displays of self-affection, as you say, is almost a verbalization of hipster style. Seeing how what music or aesthetics that are "happening" at the time influence what kinds of images people will reblog is kind of interesting. In that sense, I feel like it could be a curation of culture in a way.

    Thanks for sharing your insight!