Half full and half empty

Getty Images has just announced an embed function, which makes it possible to very easily use images from their collections in blogs and other social media, while simultaneously maintaining Getty Images' rights and -- this is the really nice bit -- avoiding the use of unsightly watermarks. This is rightly being greeted with enthusiasm (though not so much by photographers), and I'll try to use it myself where possible. Even a quick search turns up many great historical images, some familiar, most not. (Basic tip -- to filter out stock photos, restrict your search to editorial images.)

But there are problems, too. Above is an example of a embed from Getty Images. It's from a lithograph by W. Walton of Day & Haghe, lithographers to the Queen, depicting 'Ariel, the first carriage of the Aerial Transit Company', and printed on 26 March 1843 by Ackermann & Co., Strand, London. But the only part of all that which is given in the Getty Images metadata is the title; the rest came from the Library of Congress's copy, which moreover has no usage restrictions at all (since it's long out of copyright) and shows the uncropped lithograph (admittedly, probably less desirable for a blog post). The only other information offered by Getty Images is that the date it was created was 1 January 1900, which is ludicrously incorrect.

We can't expect Getty Images to thoroughly research every image they hold, and an aeroplane flying over Egypt in the mid-19th century is kind of weird to begin with. But the problem of poor or incorrect Getty Images metadata is actually quite common.

The date for this image of a Daily News flyer for free air raid insurance (providing you subscribe to the newspaper, of course), for example, is given as 1 January 1910. No doubt it will often be necessary to guess the date an image was created, if it hasn't been recorded. But it's surely not to much to expect that an advertisement which talks about Zeppelin bomb damage to British houses be dated to wartime, at least?

I found this one by searching on the keyword 'zeppelin'. It's obviously not a Zeppelin, but a house. So maybe it's a house that was bombed by a Zeppelin, as mentioned in the previous image, or perhaps some place significant in the life of Count Zeppelin? Nope. It's actually the birthplace of Field Marshal Hindenburg. Presumably this turns up because Hindenburg had an airship named after him, which is now more famous (at least outside Germany, and maybe there too) than he is. I can't tell for sure, though; 'zeppelin' isn't one of the keywords listed in the metadata, so there must be a hidden association between 'zeppelin' and 'hindenburg'. That would be okay, if there was some way of turning this off and doing a strict search, but there doesn't seem to be.

And above is not a beautiful photograph of the civilian Zeppelin Viktoria Luise flying above a line of yachts on Lake Constance, because this one can't be embedded. Getty Images doesn't own everything in its collection, but licenses them on behalf of their owners, some of whom presumably decided not to allow theirs to be embedded. Again, this would be less of a problem if there was a way to search only for embeddable images, but again, I can't see how to do that. I must admit, though, that this is a small-minded complaint -- there are many, many images that you can embed. Really, I'm more annoyed that having found that photograph, which I've admired for a long time, I decided to write this post featuring it, and only then discovered that I couldn't in fact embed it.

Enough griping. Okay, so you can't trust its descriptions and you need to be generous in your chronological limits, but Getty Images isn't a historical picture archive, so perhaps we should be grateful that it's as useful as it is. To end on a more positive note, here are some great 'zeppelin' images which is it great to be able to embed, problematic metadata or not.

The cover of the score for an intermezzo by an American composer, Henry Zeiler, entitled Flight of the Air Ship. It's a very odd airship, since they didn't normally have wings -- except sometimes in fiction and in mystery airship scares. Searchlights, too, were more characteristic of mystery airships than real ones. So I thought that this might been inspired by the mystery airships seen across the United States in 1896 and 1897, or the mystery aircraft seen in New England in 1909. But no, Flight of the Air Ship was published in 1908. It's difficult to imagine that a minor piece of sheet music could inspire the 1909 sightings (which anyway were more about aeroplanes than airships), so it will have to marked down to generalised background imagery.

Also from 1908, presumably, a French cartoon showing Wilhelm II on his 'new warhorse', the Zeppelin. It's a play on his famous 'place in the sun' speech of 1901, where he had asserted that Germany's 'future lies upon the water'. Here he is saying that 'our future is in the air' and (I think) claiming 'a place in the moon'. It's a ridiculous image, poking fun at the Kaiser's pretensions.

Barrow-in-Furness, 23 September 1911, His Majesty's Airship No. 1, also known as Mayfly. It didn't. It's tempting to suggest that the start of the fracture which doomed Mayfly before its first flight can be seen halfway down the envelope, but I don't think it quite matches up with photographs taken after the accident.

The description for this is 'July 1915: People gathered in the streets of Shoreditch after a zeppelin raid on the area.' Waiting for news?

'Get a good rise by joining the RAF.' Given that it is showcasing an O/400 and what looks like either R33 or R34, I'd guess this dates to the immediate post-1918 period, perhaps the early 1920s.

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3 thoughts on “Half full and half empty

  1. One quibble, of course: "Getty Images doesn't own everything in its collection, but licenses them on behalf of their owners" - or, rather, on behalf of the people who claim to own them. No shortage of opportunistically dubious "we have a print, we own the right to license it" material in there!

    !'m guessing the root source of "1 January 1910" was a long-lost cataloguer that said "hmm, unknown date in WWI, call it 191-" and then an enthusiastic search-and-replace.

    As for the Mayfly, I think the entire image is faulty - you can see the same fracture line in the shadows on the quayside.

  2. Post author


    One quibble, of course: “Getty Images doesn’t own everything in its collection, but licenses them on behalf of their owners” – or, rather, on behalf of the people who claim to own them. No shortage of opportunistically dubious “we have a print, we own the right to license it” material in there!

    Good point. I'm not a lawyer, but a number of the images in this post wouldn't be in copyright, particularly the aerial steam carriage. I suppose there is an argument that while they may not hold copyright, though, what you are actually paying for is the right to use their high-quality photograph of the image, and if you can find it somewhere else you're welcome to do so.

    As for the Mayfly, I think the entire image is faulty – you can see the same fracture line in the shadows on the quayside.

    Well-spotted! Yes, you're right.


    The ‘Get a Good Rise by Joining the RAF’ poster indeed dates to 1919, according to the IWM website.

    Thanks -- a further illustration of why you can't trust the Getty Images metadata, as it says 1 January 1918.

    I've only just realised that this 1919 poster at the end of the post shows British aircraft flying over the Pyramids, just like the 1843 lithograph at the start! Completely unintentional appropriateness. No doubt it says something about the role of aviation in the imperial/orientalising imagination.

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