PHAROS is an international consortium of fourteen European and North American art historical photo archives committed to creating a digital research platform allowing for comprehensive consolidated access to photo archive images and their associated scholarly documentation.

Group portrait of PHAROS members convened at The Frick Collection in 2013.

Established in 2013, PHAROS responds to the need for the rich visual and textual material held in art-historical photo archives, often unpublished and uniquely accessed through these repositories, to be made accessible for a new generation of scholars accustomed to online access to research materials. Consolidated access to tens of millions of images of works of art will be of immeasurable value to scholarship and teaching for a wide range of art-historical issues. These include provenance and attribution, conservation research, exhibition research, publication history, the history of photography, as well as the history of art history.  Above all, PHAROS aims to provide an essential resource for those engaged with new research methodologies within the framework of digital humanities.

Brief History

At its first meeting, supported by a grant from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, directors and staff of the research institutes responsible for fourteen major photo archives in Europe and the United States prepared a statement of purpose that outlined both long- and short-term goals. Since that first meeting, a technology working group determined that the most promising solution for achieving consolidated access to the documentation on roughly 31 million images of works of art held by PHAROS institutions would be to map the data to the CIDOC CRM ontology and transform it into linked open data (LOD) for eventual contribution to ResearchSpace. In 2014-2016, with funding from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, Pharos collaborated with John Resig, the creator of JQuery and the Dean of Computer Science at Kahn Academy, to create an image recognition tool for the consortium’s Italian images similar to the one he created for Japanese Woodblock prints. The PHAROS Art Research Database,  launched in September 2016, enables searching image to image without the mediation of language, using an interface that allows users to perform searches for their own images against those held in the PHAROS database, as well as to find multiple images of the same work of art along with accompanying documentation from multiple photoarchives.

Current Status

As of Fall 2016, members are in various stages of working on converting historical documentation about the works of art to electronic form, reconciling relevant data with agreed upon authorities, mapping the data to the CIDOC-CRM ontology and digitally capturing all of their photographs.  As these steps are accomplished, images and data will be made available in the computer vision database as well as on ResearchSpace.