Blog Post

Tiffany Chan's Introduction: Turning 19th- and 20th-century photographs into Animated GIFs

Hello HASTAC 2014-2015!

I'm an undergraduate student in English Literature at Queen's University (Kingston, Ontario). Since I'm still in undergrad, my classes are pretty general: I've taken courses ranging from 21st-century Chinese-Canadian literature to Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse-Icelandic literature (in translation, of course!). I am particularly interested in late 19th-century literature and the Digital Humanities and I plan to pursue these interests in grad school. What draws me to the Digital Humanities is the idea of "making": I really enjoy the creativity (dare I say "artistry") involved in DH projects as well as the research aspects. This fits quite well with my interests in image-editing software, web design and 3D modelling or printing.

I also work as a Student Assistant at the W.D. Jordan Special Collections Library at Queen's. My work involves digitizing and contextualizing late 19th- and early 20th-century stereoscopic photographs as well as displaying them on a public-facing website. Stereoscopic photographs are sets of two slightly different photographs that, when viewed through a special viewer, appear to be three dimensional. These photographs were mounted on mass-produced stereoview cards, which became a leisurely but instructional pastime for West European and North American middle classes. More than any other photographic medium at the time, stereoscopic photography provoked and encouraged the sense of "being there." Stereoviews were treated as photographic truth-tellers, replicating human vision and educating their audience about the external world it signified. My project is interested in the tension between photography as a "truthful" medium and the photograph as a mediated representation.

A large part of my project is very technically-oriented: it involves transforming these photographs into animated GIFs (with Photoshop) in order to simulate the 3D effect of the stereoview. This is more similar to how a contemporary viewer might have seen the stereoview than the scanned images of the cards that libraries often display. The second part of my project involves contextualizing the stereoviews with text, to be read alongside the image, which informs the user about the historical, literary and/or sociological background of their contents.

I joined HASTAC to record and share my process and challenges with others -- and hopefully to find some compelling solutions or responses to these issues together. I am the inaugural and (this year) the only Student Assistant working in the Digital Humanities. As far as I know, I am the only undergraduate doing research in DH at my university (though I'm almost certain other people must be doing it and just don't call it "Digital Humanities research"). It sometimes gets a little lonely here! So I think I'll enjoy being part of a community interested in the same things.

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2 comments

Hi Tiffany,

This sounds like a great project that treats visual studies/art history while also being artistic in its own right. In the art world right now there is a lot of interesting work being done in galleries around animated GIFs and web-based art (there's a curated tumblr collection here, for instance). Not sure if you will be posting any samples online, but if you do I would love to see!

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Thanks for your interest, Lisa, and for sharing the link to web-based art. There are a few samples of my GIFs on my other post and maybe I will tweet more as I go if people are interested ;)

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