INDIAN MEMORY PROJECT : ARCHIVE
CLIENT : CULTURAL / GLOBAL REFERENCE
ONLINE ARCHIVE TRACING THE IDENTITIES AND HISTORIES OF THE INDIAN SUBCONTINENT VIA IMAGES IN PERSONAL / FAMILY ALBUMS
Indian Memory Project (IMP) is the world’s first online archive tracing histories and identities via collective and individual narratives – in this specific case, the Indian subcontinent via personal narratives and photographs. The crowdsourced project promotes engagements with cultural heritage via contemporary platforms for digital generations. The project is now one of the most admired and loved archives in the world, it has made history ‘cool’, inspired curiosity, circulated knowledge, and challenged conventional ideas of cultural heritage and archives around the world.
HOW IT BEGAN
I have always been interested in cultural knowledge, for it is one of the few routes to deciphering the regions we live in and belong to. It also offers dots and patterns to build new ideas on, and propels surprising ways in which we connect with people and communities. But the truth was, we didn’t know enough – history has always been a servant to politics, and the only cursory knowledge we had came from text books and cinema – neither of which offered perspectives on belief systems, lifestyle, or a deep understanding of this incredible puzzling and diverse subcontinent. Considering we are an ancient civilisation, even in the post-modern era, we are still disconnected with our own citizens, and stories from unfamiliar surroundings – North India, for instance, has cliched clues and assumptions about the South, and vica versa – the same applies to the east and the west.
CONNECTING THE DOTS
My father – When I was 12 years old, my father passed away of Leukemia. He was a man of curiosity – a physicist studying the amplification of light, an MBA, a book worm, a mathematician, a business man, an amateur occultist, DOS game designer and photographer. And he left behind several boxes of photographs and slides that he had taken as an immigrant in UK. My need of engaging with his memory was to look and re-look at the photographs and relive the stories about the images he would narrate often. Naturally then, for me a photograph, any photograph, then had to have a story.
My teachers – Parallely, in school, my history teacher’s mission was to not teach text book history – making it clear that text books did not / could not capture the exhaustive diverse histories of the world, plus there were indeed political biases in what was said and unsaid – there was a lot we didn’t know. On the other hand, I befriended the library head – my most favorite place in school, and at lunch or after school I volunteered as an assistant to her. Over weeks I began to understand how to place and extract books in order, how the card cataloguing and cross-referencing system worked. I do not have OCD, but organising & arranging chaotic things, ideas or information into contextual order, and find meaningfulness has since become an imperative creative force.
My profession – My engagement with design, advertising as well as art photography, taught me that a photograph (conceptual, commercial or documentary) communicates emotional, academic ideas and imaginations about a context. A semester at University of Brighton revealed a greater understanding on how to read, represent as well as ask serious questions of photographs across cultures, subjects and time – as individual images, and as a collective series. When trying to access to old images for a design project is when I noticed a consistent reluctantcy, denial or red tape to historical knowledge/ images to the public. It was no wonder we didn’t know much because most information via heritage institutions in India, was only accessible to and for the academe, or to other heritage institutions, or historians. Moreover, most of the archives lay with Britain, and access was either too expensive or denied – making it next to impossible for the general public.
Penny Drops – Only when working on a book idea on Indian Weddings is when I realised that everyone in the Indian subcontinent has a wedding photograph – for it was a legal document for inheritance, property and custodial matters. With stories attached, lay a huge idea right there – much bigger than wedding photographs. Private images were also social evidence of our lives, our pasts and an informal but robust documentation of communities.
The Internet – I embraced technology like a fish does to water. And despite much of the chaos and fears, I am still excited about it, because it has done a lot of good. Once the internet introduced open source and easy to use platforms like WordPress, I was interested. Apart from being the new visiting card, the platform helped organise bits of data in a cohesive manner. It had great potential for how I could use it. It was easy then to organise the puzzle that had nagged me for years – to connect data like photographs to data like narratives, and reveal undiscovered collective insights.
Please visit INDIANMEMORYPROJECT.COM/PRESS to witness its international impact.
Video Marketing created in 2016 to celebrate Six years of the archive and thank the contributors.
Private photographs once contextualised with personal narratives, categorized, key-worded, and tagged will reveal a baffling history of the subcontinent – No one in the world had manifested this idea yet, so the playing field was uncharted territory – hence once I knew the project would work using WordPress, I strategically charted out who and what the project would be, what I could do best and what will be the value system it must represent.
BANDWIDTH : While I could apply the archive idea to the whole world, I decided that culturally I was more likely to read between the lines if I contained the archive within the Indian Subcontinent – it was more interesting and it was going to be no less of a task anyhow, considering India and its bordering sisters, still had centuries of collective insights, ideas and stories to uncover.
BRAND CORE VALUES
– Warm, friendly, awestruck, proud and emotional tone
– Status and respect benchmark – National Archives of UK, Library of Congress, USA
– Financial ROI not the motivating force
– Offers free reference access to anyone curious about the subcontinent
– Clean information distribution & No advertising.
– Copyrights and ownership rights are honoured & respected.
– Use correct and simple grammar so that even google will translate it well.
– In light of new information about a narrative, it will correct itself.
– It will not accept anonymous or found unclaimed pictures
– A challenger of a story will be welcomed to offer their own version of an event. Both narratives will co-exist.
– If a contributor cannot confirm the hearsay – it will be stated as hearsay.
– As long as the submission criteria is met, and there is no evidence of unethical motives by a contributor, no image/narrative contribution’s inclusion will be denied.
– Unconscious & conscious bias analysis : Any narrative that may seem irrelevant to me, will most likely be relevant to someone out there.
– Inclusion and promotion of international cultural networks in social media, and links to their works from the archive
NAMING : I did not want to name the project after some ‘photographic’ or academic terminology, for one it is relevant to only a minuscule group of people, and two it will be considered an ‘arty intellectual project’ that will have most non-art people immediately disengage, more over – what happens if the vision gets bigger to document different mediums of memory (letters, cards, home videos etc). The photograph is the current central context, but any central context could reveal multiple important layers of information. In branding, we do not want to be stuck with a name that won’t accommodate a larger or wider vision. ‘Memory’ turns out is an accommodating word for this brand and archive for it embraced several ideas of the past continuous, longevity, legacy and relevance as well as collective contexts while aligned authentically to its purpose.
AUDIENCE : My audience at the time of founding this project was as usual – first me, I am the primary audience for any of my work, then my friends, colleagues, peers, acquaintances and family – the smallest viable market. I knew they were like me, deeply curious about the world and hungry for more knowledge. I knew they would love learning about each others’ backgrounds and diversities. And this strategy worked brilliantly, the smallest viable group turned into the best national and international champions and advocates of the archive. Their word carried through to strangers around the world, from institutions to schools, from ordinary citizens to dignitaries, across professions. age groups, nationalities, cultures and languages – making the archive into one of the most valuable and admirable ones around.
COLLECTION : Stories are collected, transcribed, edited and administered in-house. Collection points are personal house visits, via online submissions, email, and social media. All narratives are fact checked as much as possible and new insights are added from research.
DESIGN : Disclaimer: While I type this, I am in the process of redesigning a more robust and responsive archive with updated & new content – Working strategies will of course be maintained. ‘Never fix what isn’t broken’. Nonetheless this was what I had kept in mind from 2012-2019.
One of the design decisions on the branding I took was to keep the design of the name simple – for the idea was radical – and radical ideas scare people, they are reluctant to accept something that hasn’t been done before, so it was imperative to keep it friendly, accessible, easy to read and memorable. As simple as if I were serving the best home-made tea in an earthy cup. I consciously chose a font that wasn’t overwhelming, resonated gentleness, culture, and a reminder of an Indian motif. An aesthetic name for a radical new idea nudged repetition enough to register in minds and is easily slipped off the tongue when people talked about it. This was not a brand that needed elaborate styling or branding : instead it needed a simple and clean information design model – that would encourage people to read – Organic order to data. I focused instead on the flow of images and narratives. Ensuring that the first thing people see and read – is a photograph and a story, there are no extra clicks for them to sift through to get to one.
SOCIAL MEDIA APPLICATIONS : Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, YouTube etc are extensions of the archive that create knowledge of stories on the archive, interesting trivia from world history, presenting and promoting other archives, museums, individuals, history based books, cinema and exhibitions and oral histories and collections from around the world. The 21st century social media is an interesting beast to tame – with a shape shifting disposition – the audiences profile, psychographics and demographics change often. Hence promotions and content notifications are customised for each platform, in form of language construction, timing of posts, and imagery that will get the maximum engagement. Inclusion of peer networks is a the brand value of IMP – for it has, as anticipated, helped create a warm helpful advocacy, as well as a community of, and collaborations with people and institutions working in fields of cultural dissemination across the world.
ANALYTICS : Anyone in the internet business will know that studying the back end data is imperative to building an online brand. Keeping track of what sends people to the archive, what people search for to land up on IMP, time zones when people visit and how long do they stay, what are the top five languages it is accessed in, where are the ping backs from, what are the demographics, age groups, gender what posts are doing better than others and why, or even why is there a sudden interest in a story that no one cared for till yesterday it tell us etcetra informs us on what we could do better, fine tune the system, and what not to do at all.
Offline exhibition of Indian Memory Project at Sensorium Festival, Goa 2015 . Curated by Prashant Panjiar.