This week I looked at some of the online exhibitions on the New York Public Library’s website. As I was browsing through some of the exhibitions I kept some of the suggestions proposed in Bruce Wyman et al.’s “Digital Storytelling in Museums.” What was especially important to the authors is the need for the technology to enhance the narrative of an exhibit in order to create a visceral experience for its visitors. With the focus on the story of the exhibit, the technology should be used appropriately to best convey the narrative without becoming gimmicky.
The exhibition I looked at closely was the Sir Noel Coward exhibition which used photograph collections of Coward’s plays and films to showcase the life and work of the 20th-century playwright. The exhibition is split into different tabs beginning with an Introduction page, and then continues by decade from the 1920’s to the 1970’s. The narrative of the exhibition follows Barry Day’s written essay entitled “The Renaissance Man” which describes the struggles and successes of Noel Coward’s Broadway plays and films throughout his lifetime. As the exhibition’s main focus is the archive’s photograph collection, each tab is filled with images which mostly contain shots of scenes and promotions for each of Coward’s plays and films, including later revivals.
This exhibition did I good job, I think, of finding a simple narrative that could correspond to the main focus of the exhibition, which is the collection of its photographs. Throughout Barry Day’s essay, each mention of Sir Noel Coward’s plays and films was turned into a hyperlink, and once clicked, the photos for that specific play or film were filtered. I appreciated this feature because each section is filled with an abundance of photos, so having the ability to narrow them down into categories by play was helpful as I followed along the narrative of the essay. However, once a photo was opened, I could not scroll through to the next one–I had to instead exit out of each individual photograph to look at the next, which became a time-consuming task. At the same time, I could not zoom into each individual photo–some had captions which I was unable to read because this function was not available. And while the exhibition boasted about its vast array of photographs, the 60’s and 70’s sections were extremely sparse of images compared to the earlier years.
Plus, in its introduction, the archives explains that it houses many of Coward’s manuscripts letters and telegrams, production scripts, and oral histories, yet none are featured in the online exhibition. While the main focus is to showcase the photographs, some of these other materials could have enhanced the exhibit and the narrative of Coward’s plays and films. Overall, in comparing this exhibit to others featured on the New York Public Library, this is one of the better ones in terms of its use of technology in creating a narrative, as many others are laid out like a wikipedia page with simple headings and pictures scattered throughout. The Noel Coward exhibition is unique by using pictures to enhance the narrative, but I believe that even more documented materials can be useful in enhancing the story so that visitors can have a more visceral experience.