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Sight Journal: A Brief History

March 14, 1996
With so many ideas percolating in my head, I was glad to finally have a chance to put my plans in action after the holiday season.

First, I put up the work of a new photographer, Michelle Vignes, who had been recommended to me by Ken Light. Along with Sebastio Salgado and Kerry Tremain, Michelle and Ken had founded the Mother Jones Documentary Photography Fund, an effort I had long admired. I was intrigued by Michelle's history and the subjects to which she devoted herself. It felt good to put up her work. Since I put up her exhibit, I have received several comments from people who know and respect her saying how glad they are to see her on Sight.

From a technical standpoint, Michelle's page represented my first clumsy attempt at tables. I wanted to set up her main page with two columns, and this seemed like the best way to do it. Tables, of course are not a universal standard, so it is always a bit of a risky road to head down when you know browsers such as America Online's won't support more advanced functions such as this. This subject will be a topic I want to take up as a separate thread.

My plan at this time was also to work in a "Departments" section, which I felt would give me the opportunity to be more flexible with content than simply showing photographers' portfolios. I think the portfolios will always be the foundation of Sight, but they are somewhat limiting in that they can't accommodate many photographers and that they don't really promote discussion. If I wanted to make Sight a thoughtful place as well as a visual place, I needed a mechanism to allow words, as well as pictures. Inititally, Departments was comprised of "Review," "Time & Place" and "Talk," with "Story" to follow soon after.

The idea behind Review was to get away from the passive, mile-long lists of links that seemed to be featured on so many other photo sites. I felt as if it would be more useful to talk about selected sites that we felt were noteworthy. I posted a request in my January newsletter and Chris Webb of Michigan volunteered to undertake doing some reviews. He and I worked out the logistics of how we might handle it and a few weeks later, he came back with his first review. It was good to introduce a different voice and a different way of seeing to Sight. Chris has since done a couple of other reviews, both fine, but I think he realizes how much work it is to form opinions and organize his thoughts.

Time & Place was intended to give average photographers a place to display their favorite photo and a paragraph or two about the making of it. I put up one of my own photographs to start it up, then colleague David Rees contributed another. I have since put up a couple more photos, but the response has not been overwhelming. I have instead been steering people toward Time & Place and twisting their arms a little. I am surprised to not receive more submissions. Getting people to interact with a site, to create a sense of community, is difficult, and is another thread I intend to start here.

Talk was further proof that people are not as eager to participate as I predicted. It was supposed to be a discussion area. I received only one response, so I took it down after a month. Part of the problem could have been the method: I asked people to send e-mails, which I would then post. I'm now working with the server administrators to set up an automated posting method.

Story kicked off a little later, with the addition of Stacia Spragg's work on Bulgarian Gypsies. This was a nice change of pace- a cohesive text and picture package that added richness to the blend on Sight. I have several other stories in the works.

To accommodate all of these changes, I had to adjust the design of the front end of Sight. I wanted to keep the same look and feel, because it seemed to be working well and had drawn much positive response. Adding the additional material actually livened up the presentation, I think. Below are before and after examples of how Sight looked.

A Sight front page from last fall

A recent Sight front page

As you can see, the basic design is the same, but I've added more entry points, which I hope will encourage people to see a little of everything Sight has to offer. This design and the content behind it move Sight toward my vision of it as an online magazine. The Departments section is flexible enough so that I can add other categories as needed, and I hope that the existing categories will keep getting richer.

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