Picture of the year: Filament burns through, the scientific art of Stefan Krause, from Saarland in Germany. "Photography is my passion," he says. "It all started in 1981 with the purchase of a Canon AE1. The fascination of photography has not left me to this day."
Results for the two-stage 2013 Commons Picture of the Year (PotY) have been announced. This year's winning photograph (above) shows a lightbulb that has been cracked, allowing inert gas to escape—and oxygen to enter, so that the tungsten filament burns. From the flames rise elegant curls of blue smoke.
The picture of the year gained 157 votes in the second round. Filament burns through is by Stefan Krause (home page). The dramatic visual potential of lighbulbs is a subject he has been exploring for some time; readers may remember last year's competition where Stefan's picture Exploding lightbulb, involving an airsoft pistol, won third place.
The Signpost asked Stefan whether his intention was entirely artistic or included a scientific rationale:
I produce photos like this for artistic reasons and for the challenge of making them as perfect as possible. In preparation I used a small pair of pliers to break out a few glass pieces so that interesting openings were created. In my trials, the glass often broke completely so that I'd have to start over. I also needed to use a current regulator to reduce the power supply so that the burning up of the tungsten filament was slow and a beautiful plume resulted. The background was captured with a flash using red foil and "GOBO" (graphical optical blackout). The smoke was illuminated from behind with a flashtube in front of light-blue foil, and the lightbulb with a strip light ("softbox") obliquely from behind. Safety in this work is very important because of the risk of electrocution from uninsulated live parts; it was essential to turn the power off each time I replaced the bulb!
Gentle morning light by Ukrainian photographer Balkhovitin won second place.
Second by a very close margin (with 155 votes) was Gentle morning light. Taken in the Holy Mountains National Park in Ukraine's Donetsk Province, just north of Crimea, the tranquillity belies recent traumatic events in the region, including the death of a Wikimedian. Photographer Balkhovitin told the Signpost: "When I took this shot I particularly liked the direct sunlight that's shining through the autumn leaves, and the light mist over the water that obscures the opposite shore."
The scene could have been a thousand years away—but for the trace of a hillside roadway on the right, behind a tree.
French Wikipedian Nicholas Sanchez won third place with an extraordinary split-second shot of a swallow in full flight, gliding open-mouthed to drink from the water's surface. Sharp geometries in the bird—a square throat and angled wings—contrast with a subtle layering of background colours. In a mirrored effect, the rippled motion of flight is reflected in the underside of the wings and in the surface ruffles below.
The organisers expressed their delight that more unique editors voted than ever before—4070 in both rounds. 2852 voters participated in the first round, which presented a record 962 images; and 2919 voted for one of the 50 finalists (to rank the top 30 overall and the top two in each of 10 categories, with an average vote per candidate of 58).
"Hirondelle en plein vol, qui boit dans une piscine"—the French description as stylish as the picture itself, by Nicholas Sanchez
Two persistent features of PotY are its domination by continental European photographers and the small proportion of entries that feature people. One highly ranked image embodies both human and global south elements: Varanasi green peas, by Argentinian photographer Jorge Royan, is of a streetseller in that iconic Indian city. Richly symbolic, the composition is lush in its use of colour and texture. This picture is perhaps a reminder of what jurist Heta Pandit said of the field of entries in last year's Wiki Loves Monuments: "I would have also liked to see some more human element. The relationship between monuments, nature and people is so important. ... A lot of the pictures were like tourist brochures."
The Signpost asked Adam Cuerden, a veteran contributor to the English Wikipedia's featured picture forum, to comment on this year's PotY competition. He first raised the matter of "encyclopedic value", which though required at that forum is not a criterion for Commons featured pictures:
We have the awkward situation where the winner is an image that probably shouldn't be used in any Wikimedia project. The image is very well-photographed: It shows a cracked lightbulb plugged into the socket, the loss of vacuum allowing the filament to burn.
Unfortunately, the photographer then manipulated the image in a way that ruins all the encyclopedic value: he removed the lamp fitting and photoshopped the bottom of the lightbulb in its place. We're left with a picture of a lightbulb that has electricity moving through it that gives the appearance of not having any such thing happening.
The focus of every Wikimedia project is education. Were a copy of the image with the lamp fitting available, I'd suggest it be widely used; but if it fundamentally misrepresents the science being demonstrated, it's hard to see how it could be used for anything but discussion of photomanipulation or art.
However, that's not to say that there aren't some excellent images among the finalists, indeed, all of the other finalists are strong images and could easily find wide use. One could, at most, quibble on a few where the photographer took other, equally good images that might be better for some uses.
But, if Picture of the Year is meant to celebrate the work of Commons as an image repository, I find it strange and somewhat shameful that, while the original round divided the images into categories for voting, and the top two images in each category moved on to the second round, we've thrown out the entire reason we divided images into categories in the first place: To make sure the diversity of Commons is recognised. I was one of the people who created the category-based system back in 2009, to replace the previous system of every image being presented at once, which was getting far too clunky. However, when it was invented, it was also intended to help celebrate the diversity of commons: in 2009, the final results included a listing of winner of each category, thus, at least attempting to show the entire diversity of Commons. Why not now? There are inherent biases in this sort of competition, and that's fine. But why use a system designed to give recognition to additional types of content, then not bother to recognise them?
Fourteenth place: the Science Library of Upper Lusatia in Görlitz, Germany, by Ralf Roletschek, who has 875 "quality images" on Commons (homepage).
Noetica assisted with the language of the main story.
New communications head: The Wikimedia Foundation has announced the hiring of Katherine Maher to be its chief communications officer. Maher was formerly the advocacy director for Access, an advocacy group dedicated to a free and open Internet. She will be replacing Jay Walsh, who formally left the position (which was then titled as senior director, communications) in October, though he has continued in a similar role during the lengthy hiring process.
Sue Gardner, the outgoing executive director, stated that "Her experiences advocating for the rights of ordinary internet users and communicating with a large global volunteer community are both rare and directly relevant. She's got a solid understanding of internet technologies. She's a crisp, clear communicator, and an experienced spokesperson." The process to replace Gardner, which has now lasted for more than a year, is still plodding forward; the last update from the transition team gave May 2014 as a possible date: "We are at a point where we have three candidates that we all feel are great. We hope to speak to them in the coming week or two and hope to go into the final process (reference checking, terms negotiation etc.) after that."
Should university students be allowed to reference Wikipedia?: An Australian and British website asked this tantalizing question last week.
Typography update: The Foundation has announced upcoming changes to its typography. The alterations were covered by FastCoDesign. Further Signpost coverage can be read in this week's technology report and accompanying op-ed.
Geography of Fame: A New York Times opinion article this week based its data on a selection of articles on Wikipedia. "The Geography of Fame" stated:
With a little coding, I had a data set of more than 150,000 Americans deemed by Wikipedia’s editors to be notable. The data set included county of birth, date of birth, occupation and gender. I merged it with county-level birth data gathered by the National Center for Health Statistics. For every county in the United States, I calculated the odds of making it to Wikipedia if you were born there.
Russian Wikipedia statement on Crimea: Reactions to Russia's recent invasion of Ukrainian Crimea have inspired a Facebook post from the Russian Wikipedia. Chief among their concerns: "Russian Wikipedia is Wikipedia in the Russian language, not Wikipedia of the Russian Federation."