Reading this was like finding the solution to a problem I never knew existed.

There exist hundreds of catalogues detailing photographs exhibited in the Victorian era and shortly after – such examples being Photographs Exhibited in Britain 1839-1865 and Exhibitions of the Royal Photographic Society 1870-1915. These catalogues (and now databases that mirror the information of the catalogues) provide information to photographs, but crucially no photographic image. It is presumed these photographs exist somewhere.

Likely some of these AWOL photographs are in private ownership, universities and museums. The recent digitisation of many of these types of collections has transformed the photographs into newly-available data for comparison against the catalogues of descriptions.


Professor Stephen Brown and Professor Robert John, of De Montfort University, UK, are investigating a form of computational intelligence known as fuzzy logic to see if it can be used to match catalogue entries to images online.

According to Professor John, the software can “make decisions much more quickly than humans and it is not restricted to a simple ‘match’/’no match’ answer.”

Professor Brown describes example issues the software hopes to negotiate:

“Some of the records in the catalogues are rather vague. For instance, you might have the name, but the only address given is ‘London’. If a photograph is then found with the same name but the photographer’s address is given as ‘Blackheath’ then is that the same person? It could well be but further examination is needed. Some photos were exhibited more than once over different years, and that’s fine as long as the same details are recorded for both, but very often this isn’t the case. It wasn’t uncommon for a photographer to sell or loan prints to other people who then exhibit that work under their own name, not claiming to be the photographer, just the exhibitor. There might be a photo floating around online that is listed under the photographer’s name, while we only have the exhibitor’s details.”

The programme is still to be tested, but if successful (the article doesn’t explain how “success” is determined) the intention is to apply the programme to other online collections and potentially reunite more records with their long-lost photographs.

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If you are not reading the British Photographic History blog, you should – it covers aspects of photographic history and archiving that don’t get covered elsewhere with regular updates on museums, new archives and storage developments for UK prints and paper collections. I have particularly appreciated Michael Pritchard‘s articles.

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This story has absolutely nothing to do with the Super Furry Animals, I just wanted to take the opportunity to recommend the Furries’ album FUZZY LOGIC.

S.F.A. are Welsh wizards of rock.