Monday, 12 April 2010

The Tin Eye (reverse image search)

Been meaning to show you one of the cool things I came across the other day via Dan (head geek of GeekHouse). Clarice posted this image on Fb, and wondered if anyone knew where the source image came from:

My first guess was Brueghel because the style looked similar. I thought it might have been a detail from one of his more complex paintings. I quickly did a Google image search of Brueghel and browsed his paintings but it felt like looking for a needle in a haystack. I popped onto gchat and asked Dan if such a thing as a reverse image search engine exists. Why yes, he said, and pointed me to the Tin Eye.

Within a second of plugging in this album cover, the Tin Eye had correctly identified that it is in fact The Concert in an Egg by Hieronymus Bosch - and it managed to do this despite the fact that the album cover is cropped and confused with the addition of text overlay.

Cool, huh?

I think Tin Eye can also be used for source attribution. I read a lot of blogs and often see images reposted by bloggers. Some bloggers point to a source (frequently a line specifying 'via' or 'reposted from') but these 'sources' often then point to other 'sources'. It's very difficult to find out who originally owned these images. The Tin Eye can be useful in this instance because I could just plug the image in and see what it comes up with. Today I experimented with this image:

Unfortunately this didn't work as well as I had hoped. It turned up 40 results and by just looking at the web addresses I couldn't tell which ones might be the original source. So still a little bit of looking for a needle in a haystack, but it does sometimes manage to track down the origin site. Eventually I did a Google search with 'what the fuck have you done installation.' Turns out someone else had been asking the same question and according to the comment section of his post, the installation is by one Philippe Lhomme, and photographed by Michael Roulier.

It took a little bit of detective work to find this out - especially on Roulier's portfolio site, scrolling through many many photographs to come upon the right one.

Ideally images would always come tagged with its point of origin but this is sadly not the case right now. I often drag images I like on to my desktop and save them in my digital 'scrapbook' but to be honest, I have no idea where any of them come from, or who authored them.

I do find it interesting that people have a sense of the importance of attribution on the internet via links to one another (retweet, repost, etc.) - though this is of course several hundred steps short of the rigour with which print media practises attribution. I am interested to see how these conventions will play out, i.e. whether internet attribution will take on a specific format, if technological intervention will make it easier (images which are auto-tagged every time it's copied or linked, for instance), and of course, how our conception of originality and intellectual property will continue to evolve.