A collective REPHOTO project
What is SNS Challenger?
SNS Challenger is an online collaborative project to rephotograph the voyage of HMS Challenger (1872-1876). SNS stands for Social Network Site and refers to the online platform where members upload and discuss their pictures.
What is the aim of SNS Challenger?
In 1872 the British scientific research vessel HMS Challenger began a voyage around the world gathering data on the depths, temperature and organisms of the oceans. Alongside the charts, temperature tables and specimen jars obtained was a collection of over 500 photographs created by three photographers who served successively throughout the expedition. While the contributions of HMS Challenger to marine science have been researched in depth since its return to England in 1876, little attention has been paid to the photographs. Today, with the growing interest in rephotography, these photographs have significance: they present us with an opportunity to better understand today by visually engaging with the past. Through doing this, a number of issues can be explored and investigated. With the help of volunteers from each of the locations visited between 1872 and 1876, SNS Challenger aims to document the experiences that members have.
What is the project for?
SNS Challenger forms part of my PhD research in Information Environments at London College of Communication. As a photographer and researcher, I am interested in popular uses of photography and how people can learn more about photography through taking pictures. The process of rephotography is well-suited for developing photographic and creative skills, and I am keen to explore the process as a means to learn more about the effectiveness of online collaboration. I
Where did the idea come?
In 2006, I used rephotography to explore a relationship between the Japanese landscape and digital photography. At the centre of the project were photographs of Japan taken during the voyage of HMS Challenger in 1875. Upon completion of that project, I wished to rephotograph all the locations visited by Challenger. However, I did not have a boat, nor the money or resources to fund such an adventure. An unlikely solution came in the form of social network sites and the potential power of crowdsourcing. Further reading on the World Wide Web led to a social network site being likened to a virtual ship floating within a sea of information, and plans for SNS Challenger were drawn.
When will the project finish?
The voyage of HMS Challenger was originally three-and-a-half years. As SNS Challenger "set sail" on December 21st 2009, the project will officially end on May 24th 2013 on the anniversary of HMS Challenger's return to Portsmouth.
What will follow the project?
Following the end of the project, I will be writing up my findings in preparation for completing my PhD. Upon completion of my PhD, an exhibition will present rephotographs and contributions from participants online as well as at a public venue (the location to be determined). An album will be made of all the rephotographs, which will be donated to the Natural History Museum in London where the original Challenger photographs are held.
How can people get involved?
The project is open to anyone with an interest in taking pictures and learning about their local history. We are particularly keen to hear from people who live in locations visited by HMS Challenger. Taking part is free and easy: simply sign up and answer a few survey questions; look for photographs taken in your location; research them; rephotograph them; and upload them to the site. We are very interested in hearing more about your experience, so we welcome blog posts and comments describing those.