The Museum of Northern California Art (MONCA) in Chico, California, USA, is currently running an exhibition titled “Northern California on Wikipedia,” featuring 26 framed photographs from Wikipedia volunteer Frank Schulenburg. It is believed to be the first-ever solo art museum exhibit of a Wikipedia photographer.
Frank was born in 1969 in a small town in a rural area of Lower Saxony, Germany. As a child and teenager in the 1970s and 80s, he was exposed to weekly illustrated magazines like Stern, the German equivalent of Life. These photo-heavy magazines, and their approach to visual storytelling, sparked his interest in documentary photography. During his college years, he took black-and-white photographs with an analog film camera. But then, for some time, he put photography aside as other things in life took more of his time. In 2005, he began contributing to Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects. His passion for photography was rekindled when he came to California. After buying his first digital camera in 2012, he’s been spending most of his free time taking photographs or improving his self-taught camera skills by reading books or watching other photographers on YouTube.
Over the past decade, more than a hundred of Frank’s photos have been promoted by the Wikimedia Commons community as Featured Pictures, the highest quality marker on the project. His works have been reused by the Washington Post, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, Business Insider, The Weather Channel, Popular Mechanics, Gizmodo, and many others. Air France has been using one of Frank’s photos on its in-flight entertainment systems for flights to San Francisco.
I had the privilege of visiting the exhibition, and it is wonderful! (Full disclosure: In our professional capacities, Frank and I work together at the Wiki Education Foundation, and I visited the exhibit while in Chico for a planning retreat with other staff.) The exhibit proceeds chronologically around the room, with images Frank has taken of places and wildlife of Northern California over the last decade. Beside each picture is a card describing the image and why it’s important for Wikipedia to have that image — along with a QR code that enables museum patrons to click through to the Wikipedia article in question.
The exhibit, which runs through May 14, 2023, is designed to encourage visitors to think about how they, too, could contribute images to Wikimedia Commons.
“Seeing is knowing. Illustrations on Wikipedia are an important way of conveying information, and yet very few people know that taking photos for Wikipedia is a thing. With this exhibition, I hope to raise awareness of the fact that Wikipedia needs more volunteer photographers. I’d like to inspire others so they start sharing their images under a free license,” Frank says.
Once the exhibit closes at MONCA, Frank will investigate options to display it in other museums and galleries. Anyone interested in hosting the exhibit can reach out to Frank via his website, https://wikiphotographer.net.
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