Reviewed April 2020
Anna-Sophia Zingarelli-Sweet, Assistant Librarian
The Richard and Ronay Menschel Library, George Eastman Museum
The Arthur Tress Photograph Collection website is a Stanford University Libraries Special Collections online exhibition that currently consists of 150 photographic prints by the contemporary photographer Arthur Tress from the 1960s-80s, digitized and made freely accessible, with plans to add more objects as they become available. The site works very well as an inviting access point for a collection of remarkable images, but it suffers from a limited vision of what a digital exhibition can be, as an entity distinct from either a physical exhibition or a catalog. Nevertheless, it provides a solid base that could be developed into a very valuable resource for students, researchers, and casual viewers alike.
The exhibition begins with a brief introductory text, which provides an overview and evaluation of Tress’s work. The essay links out to catalog records of his photo books held at Stanford, enticing the user to further exploration and emphasizing the richness of Stanford Libraries as a site to research his work. Also of value is the bibliography of related publications available at Stanford. These resources make the site a good starting point for the university community to dive in to Tress’s oeuvre.
The “Browse” tab collocates the 150 images into thematic groups, roughly in chronological order, several of which correspond to the publications linked in the introduction. By far the bulk of the material – nearly half – belongs to the series “Gay Fantasies,” for which Tress is perhaps best known. This thematic arrangement is reminiscent of a physical exhibition. Although each is touched on in the introduction, some further discussion of the various groupings would be welcome. From the series of “All Exhibition Images” pages, which offer the option to sort by date, title, or author (less than relevant for a single-maker collection such as this one), the user can view each digital object, both recto and verso, on its own page with accompanying metadata. The Mirador IIIF viewer offers a high-quality viewing experience and rich functionality for manipulating, annotating, and comparing images. If the user is not already familiar with IIIF, however, the exciting possibilities it offers are not immediately apparent from this interface.
Metadata fields are displayed below the image viewer, and can be downloaded as a MODS XML file. While digital collection management software can impose unwieldy constraints on metadata display, the metadata fields displayed in this particular case could benefit from more customization for the content and intended audiences. For example, several fields are redundant or labeled in ways that are more appropriate to print than image collections. The broad topic access points (e.g. “Photography, Artistic”) render the keyword subject search very hit-or-miss, and the digital exhibit site does not enable faceted search or an overview of common subjects. In fact, while the digital exhibit is pleasant to browse, any researcher hoping to search the collection meaningfully would be better off finding their way to the Stanford Libraries catalog, SearchWorks. From the Arthur Tress Photographs collection page in SearchWorks, the user can browse related items in the collection and perform faceted search and browse tasks by date and topic. That the SearchWorks catalog also includes the same quality IIIF images as the exhibition website underscores the importance of envisioning other benefits that the digital exhibition might provide beyond high-quality images and metadata.
The digital exhibition website provides an inviting landing page with some useful supplementary information,but to elevate this beyond the functionality of a catalog, the exhibition could expand to include even more multimedia materials, such as video, additional essays, and thematic text. With expanded interactivity and greater connectivity to other collections, the site would further contextualize this important collection within Tress’s artistic and social milieu.