It would take a lot to move the presidential election results from the home page of the Austin American Statesman on Nov. 7. Well, for Texas, a lot happened.
Legendary University of Texas coach Daryl Royal passed away, and that was definitely front-page news in Texas. Royal, who was 88, led the Texas Longhorns to 2 national championships and did not have a single losing season in his 23 years of coaching at Texas (and Mississippi State and Washington before that). He won 11 Southwest Conference Championships at Texas.
Shortly after Royal’s death a friend sent me an email that he was seeing a lot of pictures of Royal that had been made by a former colleague of ours, Associated Press Photographer Ted Powers. Ted was the AP’s Austin-based photographer during Royal’s reign.
So, what does this have to do with metadata you might be asking yourself right now, other than I was able to use an Internet search engine to look for Ted’s pictures. I entered “darrell royal ted powers” into my search engine. And voila, a trip down memory lane.
I was reminded of a lot of things as I perused the images that appeared. Black & White photography looks really cool! AP really does stand for anonymous photographer (keep reading), and Ted Powers made lots of really nice images that people were able to find because they had been archived properly.
Cool Black & White. How fast things change. When I joined the AP in 1981, most photography was still being done in black & white. Kodak Tri-X was the film we used. It was used for everything. We carried dozens of rolls of film with us; and of course in Texas the challenge was keeping it cool when left in your car for long periods of time during the hot Texas summer. During my time at the wire service, AP transitioned from B&W to shooting only color film. That happened about the time I transferred to Austin to replace Ted, who had retired. The change to color created its own set of logistical problems; transporting chemistry to remote assignments, making prints for photo transmission. And soon thereafter, another change…first, digital film scanners and then digital cameras. A lot happened in my 15 years at the AP.
During my time at the AP, our metadata rules changed. Once upon a time, the only notation that a specific photographer had made a photo, was their initials in the caption. That was it. Later, photographers started adding their names into the captions as well. At the time, the caption was analog. It was typed on label paper and affixed to the image for “transmission.” We used to joke in the early part of my career that AP stood for anonymous photographer, but we got good at knowing initials.
It was looking for Ted’s images that I was reminded of the importance of metadata. I was able to find Ted’s photos because his name appeared with many of the photos as a photo credit or byline. Other photos were listed just as “file” so no one really knows their provenance. I was also reminded of how important ACCURATE metadata is. Many news organizations published a photo that purports to be Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, left and Darrell Royal. The photo credit reads (AP Photo/File). Too bad the caption is wrong (or maybe the caption is right and the photo is wrong) because it is a photo of Paul “Bear” Bryant, RIGHT—the hat gives it away, even if you don’t’ recognize him, standing with Auburn Coach Shug Jordan, left. The picture does appear to be from the 1973 Cotton Bowl game where Alabama played Texas, which probably accounts for part of the confusion.
Metadata travels whether it is wrong or right. At this point, I don’t know how far back the bad metadata goes, was it a recent error, where someone made assumptions of what they were looking at, or did a photographer mis-identify the two coaches 40 years ago, and the mistake only now comes to light. Even the best digital asset management system can only serve up content based on the metadata that accompanys it, right or wrong.
Posted by David Breslauer/MerlinOne, Inc.