Presented by Eileen Fry
Sponsor: Visual Resources Division
The concept of subject indexing is not a new phenomena. This session looks back on the early efforts of subject indexing in the field of visual resources. Several key issues of subject indexing are covered. At the core of the discussion of subject indexing is how to describe what an image is “of” and “about.”
First of all, is the Simons/Tansey (Santa Cruz) Slide Classification System. In 1970, a collaborative project was undertaken by Wendell W. Simons and Luraine C. Tansey at the University of California, Santa Cruz. This system was the first specifically for computerized slide classification and image indexing. The system was designed for the organization and automatic indexing of interdisciplinary collections of slides and pictures. Simons and Tansey based their system on the following theory:
A picture is more analogous to
a sentence or a single word than to a book. It
makes a single statement on a single theme; a book can be encyclopedic in its cov-
erage or very narrow. Book Classifications provide for the very general, the very
specific, and everything between. Classification of slides and pictures can make use
of only the most specific.
Currently, in the UC Santa Cruz Slide Library catalog there are 84 subject terms being used to describe images.
Betty Jo Irvine published Slide Libraries, the first book on the topic, in 1974. The book states a common practice at that time regarding subject cataloging of images due to the self-indexing nature of classification systems.
As the majority of academic
slide libraries are arranged in subject order based
upon a classification system without notation, the use of a subject catalog is
usually considered unnecessary because the collection is self-indexing.
In 1975, Hans C. Rahn, a Swiss industrialist and amateur slide collector, created and published a slide indexing scheme known as Rahn's Colored Slide Collection. It is an early permuted database index containing approximately 450 keywords in German and English, divided into 14 generic categories. The selection of these keywords reflects a bias toward Western European painting and personal idiosyncrasy. Following is a list of the Rahn’s categories: church, furniture, history and geography, life of men, life of the people, light, miscellaneous, music, mythological and allegorical figures, nature, professions and rank, religion, saints, and towns and buildings
Discussion in the topic of subject indexing continued within the visual resources community. In 1978 a program was given at the College Art Association-Visual Resources Conference entitled Subject Access to Visual Images. Speakers for this program included Eleanor Fink, National Collection of Fine Arts (NMAA); Thomas Ohlgren, Medieval Manuscripts Index, Purdue University; David Vance, Museum Computer Network; and Betsie Young, Time Life, Inc. Picture Collection.
Academic concern for image indexing continued to evolve. In 1980 the Conference on Intellectual Access to Visual Resources, the Belmont Conference, was held in order to bring together a wide range of interests and expertise relating to image access. Attending this conference were Elisabeth Betz (Parker), Library of Congress Prints/Photographs; Robert Chenall, Nomenlature; Georges DeLisle and Christopher Seifried, Public Archives of Canada; Toni Peterson and Dora Crouch, Art and Architecture Thesaurus; Andrew Eskind, George Eastman House; Eleanor Fink and James Yarnall, National Collection of Fine Arts (NMAA); Eileen Fry, Indiana University; Pamela Haas, American Museum of Natural History; James and Tanya Joyce; Mary Louise Krumrine, Pennsylvania State University; Philip Leslie and Mary Lund, Smithsonian Institution; Thomas Ohlgren, Medieval Studies, Purdue University; Ingeborg O’Reilly, Harvard Semitic Museum; Helene Roberts, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard; Kevin Roddy, Medieval Studies, University of California, Davis; Lenore Sarasan, Willoughby Associates; Arlene Sirkin, U.S. Army Audiovisual Center; Mary Jayne Sobinski, Yale Center for British Art; Paul Szarmach, Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, State University of New York Binghampton (now director of the Medieval Institute, Western Michigan University); and Larry Viskochil, Chicago Historical Society.
The Belmont Conference participants determined that there are nine requirements of a system of iconography:
During the 1980s the topic gained a great deal of momentum. Fry calls this decade the Art and Architecture Thesaurus Decade. Several events occurred that furthered the development of subject indexing for images. In 1981 Toni Peterson presents “Toward an Art and Architecture Thesaurus: a Report to the Collection on Library Resources.” By 1985, the Art and Architecture Thesaurus convenes the “Bennington Group” of visual resources curators to review the Styles and Periods Hierarchy. This led to an all day Symposium on Authority Control at the 1986 ARLIS conference in New York City. The following year at the ARLIS conference in Washington, D.C. a workshop on Database Design for Visual Collections was held. Topping off the decade was the publication of the Art and Architecture Thesaurus and the online version 1.0 in 1990. Art and Architecture Thesaurus is structured around seven facets: Associated Concepts, Physical Attributes, Styles and Periods, Agents, Activities, Materials, and Objects. These seven facets essentially ask seven questions of any image:
The Library of Congress also supported the subject description of graphic materials. In 1987 Elisabeth Betz Parker of the Library of Congress Picture and Photograph Collection published Thesaurus for Graphic Materials, a pioneering work for subject indexing of non-bibliographic materials. The Thesaurus for Graphic Materials is now also available online, and includes many principles and references on image indexing, including "of" and "about" guidelines (1). During the session Eileen Fry illustrated subject indexing from the TGM using typical terms to describe a photograph of farm machinery.
ICONCLASS, the premier iconographic
system, was developed in Europe at the University of Leiden, Netherlands.
It contains nine primary categories as follows:
0 abstract, non-representational art
1 religion and magic
3 human being, man in general
4 society, civilization, culture
5 abstract ideas and concepts
9 Classical mythology and ancient history
Fry showed illustrations of how ICONCLASS is used show descriptions for images of the Aegis of Athena and a photograph of farm machinery.
The Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (LIMC) was also mentioned in this session. It is considered to be the ultimate sources of subject classification for classical mythology and is profusely illustrated. This tool is only available in print form and required the entire set of volumes to be used correctly.
Eileen Fry’s presentation continued to show examples of subject indexing from various sources that can be found online. A list of these sites and their URLs appears at the end of this report. Subscription to the Dictionary of Art brings with it links to the Bridgeman Archive, which used 188 subject headings. The Princeton Index to Christian Art, also now available online via subscription, groups subjects in five broad categories with extensive subcategories, nearly three-quarters of which have now been linked to corresponding ICONCLASS notations; Catholic Online: Saints and Angels provides an extensive listing of saint names, attribute identifications, and history; the Beazley Archive at Oxford University is an authoritative source for all things relating to ancient vase painting; and the Encyclopedia Mythica covers world mythology, providing definitions, illustrations, and links to related terms. The Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography, edited by Helene Roberts, was discussed as an example of "Aboutness" indexing, as it includes 120 universal themes such as "Abandonment, abduction, and adultery." Fry also mentioned the VRA CORE and VISION Project. An entire issue of the VRA Bulletin was dedicated to the VRA Core Categories and the VISION Project (2).
Several image collections from governmental agencies, museums and universities Web sites and online catalogs were also discussed. These include the National Museum of American Art Inventories; Defense Visual Information Center; Sonoma State 3-Tier Approach using primary, secondary, and tertiary categories; Cleveland Museum of Art Slide Library; University of California, Santa Cruz Slide Library; University of California, Berkeley Architecture Slide Collection, SPIRO Project; and the National Gallery of Art Slide Library Online. Sample image cataloging records from University of California, Berkeley and National Gallery of Art were shown. Maryly Snow, Architecture Slide Librarian at the University of California, Berkeley, explained the subject indexing of an image of Maia Lin’s Vietnam War Memorial taken from Berkeley's online system, SPIRO, showing how elements in the classification number automatically generated subject terms. Gregory Most from the National Gallery of Art explained the use of subject headings in their MARC records. Library of Congress Subject Headings are used in the 650 fields with terms from the Art and Architecture Thesaurus in the 659 field.
Eileen Fry used the last half hour of the session to play a subject indexing game with the participants. Each participant was given a photocopy of an image of mourners in front of Maya Lin's Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. This is a continuation of the experiment Eileen carried out at another session on subject indexing at the 1998 Visual Resources Association Conference in Philadelphia. At the 1998 session, participants were asked to assign subject descriptors, which could be any terms they felt appropriate, to this same image. At the ARLIS 2000 session participants were asked to choose terms from lists of specific subject indexing sources. These sources included the Art and Architecture Thesaurus; ICONCLASS; Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography; University of California, Santa Cruz; Sonoma State; University of California, Berkeley; National Museum of American Art; and Rahn’s Index. The assignment required participant to consider both the “ofness” and “aboutness” of the image, and to work from predetermined lists of terms, both general and specific.
In conclusion, Fry pointed out that there was much to be learned from the past and the Web is having an impact on current achievements. She underscored finding realistic possibilities for sharing.
Sara Shatford. "Analyzing the Subject of a Picture: A Theoretical Approach," Cataloging and Classifi-cation Quarterly 6 (Spring 1986): 39-61.
VRA Bulletin vol 25 n 4 (Winter 1998).
URLs Used in this Session
Art and Architecture Thesaurus: http://shiva.pub.getty.edu/aat_browser/
Thesaurus for Graphic Materials: http://lcweb.loc.gov/rr/print/tgm1/
Dictionary of Art/Bridgeman: http://www.groveart.com
Princeton Index to Christian Art: http://www.princeton.edu/~ica/indexca.html
Catholic Online (Saints): http//saints.catholic.org/stsindex.html
Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (info only): http://www.rzuser.uni-heidelberg.de/~m99/
Beazley Archive: http://www.beazley.ox.ac.uk
Encyclopedia Mythica: http://www.pantheon.org/mythica
Visual Resources Association Core Categories / VISION Project: http://www.oberlin.edu/~art/vra/vision.html
UC Berkeley. SPIRO: http://shanana.berkeley.edu/spiro/
National Museum of American Art: http://nmaa-ryder.si.edu/study/index.html
Defense Visual Information Center: http://www.dodmedia.osd.mil/dvic/
National Gallery of Art Slide Library: http://www.nga.gov/library/slidesearch.htm
Cleveland Museum of Art: http://www.rediscov.com/redcleve/page.htm
UC Santa Cruz: http://slides-www.ucsc.edu/Slidecat
Dictionary of Art. New York: Grove, 1998.
Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography: Themes Depicted in Works of
Fitzroy Dearborn, 1998.
Irvine, Betty Jo. Slide Libraries: A Guide for Academic Institutions
and Museums. Littleton,
CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1974.
Parker, Elisabeth Betz. Library of Congress Thesaurus for Graphic
Materials: Topical Terms
For Subject Access. Washington, D.C.: Cataloging Distribution Service, Library of Con
Peterson, Toni and Getty Art History Information Program. Art
and Architecture Thesaurus
(AAT). New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.
Reverdin, Olivier. Lexicon Iconograohphicum Mythologiae Classicae