Surface Areas – Photos and Depictions on the Mills Field Website

This is a blog post by aaron.cope that was published on January 02, 2019 .

Starting today there are pictures on the Mills Field website!

Not all the images but approximately 1,500 photographs of past exhibitions on display in the terminals and another 1,500 photos of airports and aircraft related to the SFO Museum collection, taken by Flickr users (and published under a Creative Commons license).

If this news is exciting enough that you just want to dive in and start looking around right away here are the links you’ll want to know about:

If you just want to see photographs that SFO Museum has taken:

Or just photos by Flickr users:

There is also a handy “random image” link

As I write this there are another 30 years worth of exhibition photos to process and another 100,000 Flickr photos to review so this is just the beginning but we’re excited to finally share the work we’ve already done so far.

If you’ve been reading this blog from the very beginning you might remember an early post where we talked about tools for processing images.

These are the same images that we used to test those tools. The reason we’ve been “holding on” to them for so long is that we always wanted to release these photographs with another feature we’re launching today: Depictions.

Depictions are the things in the photographs themselves. For example, this photo of the Pacific Coast League: The West Coast’s Major League 1903-1957 exhibition is also a picture of the gallery, the terminal, the building and the airport itself where the exhibition was mounted.

Or this photo by Flickr user Kambui of a 747 that depicts SFO (that’s us :-) and Air China and the 747 itself.

Clicking on any of the depictions will take you to the (stable and permanent) page for that thing on the Mills Field website where, with a few excecptions, there will be even more photos to look at. Currently it’s not possible to search for compound depictions, say “all the 747s operated by Air China”, but that will happen soon.

Looking a little more closely at the image of the 747 above we can see that it also depicts an Airbus A380, Lufthansa and even United Airlines in the background. Those things aren’t listed as “depictions” yet because we are still working on the tools and the workflow for adding them.

Flickr photos are imported based on the airport they depict, demonstrating the benefit of having a concordance between our respective airport identifiers. In many cases those photos have been tagged with enough descriptive information that we can probably automate adding depictions for airlines and aircraft. For the time being photos with depictions of airlines or aircraft have been manually updated.

The image above is an early screenshot showing how we might add depictions to photos, in this case an airline. Here’s another screenshot showing the same but for public art works.

For things that are “native” to the airport and the museum we can often infer multiple depictions from a single pointer. For example, if we have a photo of Kendall Buster’s Topograph I and II we know that it also depicts the Main Hall in Terminal 2.

What can be depicted in images and photographs? Anything that is considered a “first-class object” in the SFO Museum collection (including objects in the aviation collection itself).

That means all the architectural elements at SFO, the exhibitions and public art works on display, other airports, as well as all airlines and companies and now aircraft.

All of these things have a direct relationship with objects in our collection (where for the purposes of this discussion the “collection” is inclusive of temporary exhibitions and public art works).

We want to create as broad surface area as possible for the things in our collection, allowing people as many different avenues to explore as possible.

The image above is another early screenshot showing all the different “first-class objects” related to the Boeing 777. As you can see those lists can start to overwhelm a page so we’re still thinking about how best to display them.

That’s why we’ve taken the time to start by identifying all the things that “surround” an object, to create a scaffolding around the objects themselves that can provide both context and the mechanics to make those avenues a reality.

In addition to all the connections that exist between the people and places and things in our collection we want to give people the opportunity to appreciate the depth and the history of the museum’s work at the airport over the years.

When you’re standing in the International Terminal, in January 2019, looking at the Caticons: The Cat in Art exhibition we want to make sure you have the opportunity to see the A World of Characters: Advertising Icons from the Warren Dotz Collection exhibit as well as the other 33 exhibitions that have been shown in that same gallery space.

Stable identifiers and relationships are what make that possible but pictures are what make it magic!

There is lots of work left to do, still.

The easiest thing to start with will be processing the catalog of past exhibition photos, dating back to the early-1980s. This will allow us to revisit the earlier work we did around image processing and to see whether some of our earlier hunches are still correct.

Assuming we didn’t get something terribly wrong we should be able to process the backlog in relatively short-order and have ample evidence to show people that the museum really is everywhere at the airport.

As mentioned earlier there are also 100,000 Flickr photos of airports (specifically the 200 or so airports immediately relevant to our collection) that we’ve downloaded and are patiently waiting to be reviewed.

We are still trying to understand what it means to show photos from Flickr on the Mills Field website. To be clear: These photos are not formally part of the SFO Museum collection and whether or not any of them ever will be is a discussion for another day.

There is no denying, however, that Flickr photographers have taken a lot of great pictures of airports and airplanes and even some of our exhibitions and that their efforts add depth and richness to our own.

Some of those 100,000 photos aren’t relevant or germane to our collection (and some of them aren’t even at airports because geotagging photos is hard) so the immediate concern will be developing tools and interfaces to let the museum work through the queue.

My hope is that we can use this work to inform how we tackle the interface(s) for adding depictions both internally and, in time, by allowing external contributors to make suggestions. The New York Public Library’s NYC Space/Time Directory - Surveyor tools are also something we’re eager to try out with our work. This is all still a ways off given everything we want to get done first but it’s always good to have a plan, or at least a goal.

In the meantime though… pictures!

Finally, for the “data people” in the audience: As always, we’ve published the metadata about these images (media) and the things they depict as open data. They are available from the sfomuseum-data GitHub repository but the links are also included below.

We’ve also published data relating to aircraft in the SFO Museum collection, as mentioned at the end of our last blog post.

These data are, like everything else, modeled as Who’s On First documents (WOF) which means that as with airlines and other enterprises we are starting to twist the (WOF) model in ways that it wasn’t necessarily designed for.

But, since all the Flickr photos are already geotagged as are all the SFO Museum photos (since we happen to know where all the galleries are located) maybe it’s not such a stretch after all.

Onwards!