Publishing photographs of deceased online has begun in Finland quite recently. The focus of this paper is in the challenges of open data publishing of images representing such a taboo motif. The paper describes how two Finnish memory organization succeeded in giving online access to difficult cultural heritage in their photography collections, and discusses the legal and ethical issues which were raised during the process.
Study concentrates on Finnish photographs of deceased dating around the turn of the last century. As a source of photography sampling we use Finnish National Digital Library, Finna (www.finna.fi). Finna provides open access to collections of Finnish museums, archives and libraries. We use methods of digital humanist theory to gather the research data, and concentrate on the images from the Photography Collections of The National Board of Antiquities and Helsinki City Museums Archive of Photographs.
In the late 19th and early 20th century post-mortem photography, departed were photographed and memorialized in studio or in the funeral. Sometimes the departed were accompanied by funeral attendees or family.
The legal background of this work is based on the Finnish copyright and protection of privacy laws. Open access to digital images raises questions about museums’ ambitions, breaches of individual rights and use permissions, along with question of a proper way to present dead people in the internet or in mass media. Releasing images as open data passes the responsibility from the museum to the user.
Our study is the first attempt of Finnish museums to create good practices for publishing historical photographs of deceased online. It attempts to initiate the discussion of the ethical and legal issues to a larger professional audience, and to enhance cooperation, joint decision making, and sharing information among museums.
Satu Savia is art historian and curator from Helsinki City Museum, Finland. She has worked as project manager and senior researcher. Current projects focus on photographic collections care and development. Savia has published books and articles of history of photography and museum guidelines.
Hanna Talasmäki is art historian and curator. Previously she has served in Helsinki as researcher in museum sector. Talasmäki has worked as researcher in many digitalizing projects at The National Board of Antiquities. She has published articles and books of history of photography and medallic art.
Image: Atelier Apollo, 1911, Unknown child in her coffin. Helsinki City Museum.