Worth a Thousand Words by Angelica Hom
During my first semester at Parsons, I took a course called “Major Studio 1” taught by Daniel Sauter. This course explored the fundamentals of data visualization programming tools, “historic and contemporary design precedents”, and human-computer interaction (HCI) theories. Partnering with the Smithsonian and utilizing their Open Access portal, students were asked to focus on one of the following themes: social justice, women's initiative, and environmental justice. I decided to focus on social justice, specifically racial justice. I explored the Smithsonian's affiliated institutions and learned about the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It led me to think: If we looked at a NMAAHC collection of just one object type, could that collection alone tell a story of racial justice?
I stumbled on a symposium called "Pictures with Purpose" hosted by the NMAAHC that "examines the production of early photographs and the many ways photography of black people was melded into every facet of American life." It turns out that during the abolitionist movement in 19th century America, cameras were becoming cheaper and more accessible to the public. For recently-free African Americans, they were able to take control of self-representation, fight against racist stereotypes, and present their best selves in the public space.
I pursued a textual analysis of the NMAAHC's photography collection and created an interactive word tree to allow users to explore their collection through a unique journey of text to imagery. When you click further into a word tree, you're eventually rewarded with the final image.
Please note that since the publication of this project, the URLs have become broken. They would ideally take you to the NMAAHC's photography collection online.