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Rowan on selected Digerati:
  • The Idealist
    < Denise Caruso >
  • The Software Developer
    < Bill Gates >
  • The Prodigy
    < Jaron Lanier >
  • The Chef
    < Nathan Myhrvold >
  • The Radical
    < Bob Stein >
  • The Catalyst
    < Linda Stone >
  • The Impresario
    < Richard Wurman >
The Curator
Doug Rowan

JB: So what's new about the Corbis concept?

ROWAN: What's new is that the whole premise of Corbis is to take pictures, put them in a digital form, and make the access to them, that is the search and finding and use of them, quite different from the prior model of the way pictures were used, which was in film form. So everything at Corbis is about digital. The pictures are digital, the data is digital, the access is digital. The customer search is digital, the viewing of the potential selections, whether it be for entertainment, education, or professional licensing use-these are all digital. It is of a size that is unique, and the very nature of the way the pictures are organized is quite unique. In fact, we like to think that Corbis is really about three different elements: It's about content, which are the pictures themselves; it's about context, which is the way the pictures relate to one another and to the larger bodies of information that the pictures are a part of; and then it's about storytelling. There are major efforts at Corbis in each of these three areas, content, context, and storytelling.

In a world of atoms, in a film world as we call it, it was a challenge of a type to bring pictures to life, and in a way they were brought to life in various forms of publications-such as Life Magazine. In the digital world they can be brought to life with audio, with video, and with other techniques that allow one to explore them in a manner that wasn't possible before in print. For example, my wife and I have been long-term subscribers to the National Geographic, and I always had the feeling when I read National Geographic that I would have liked them to have printed certain pictures larger than the ones they chose. I really didn't have that capability; an editor made the choices for me. In a digital world, I will be able to take a subject, such as volcanoes, and I'll be able to explore the aspects that interest me, and to the level of detail that I want, tailored for me, and not created by an editor who anticipated what I would want to see.

JB: How does this play out in terms of the products you bring to market?

ROWAN: From a storytelling standpoint, Corbis has created six very unusual products in CD-ROM form, the latest of which are a title called Leonardo da Vinci, and one on Roosevelt called FDR. So we are already taking the pictures of Corbis and putting this into a very new form that is a cross between education and entertainment. So that's really happening today. The first of the titles we produced was on the Barnes Collection; it's called The Passion for Art. While the Barnes Collection itself was rather hidden from view for many years, what we try to do in the CD-ROM is to take the wonderful paintings and to take Barnes himself, and build a context, build a story around, so that when you look at the wonderful Matisse dance mural you learn about Matisse, you learn about the correspondence he had with Barnes, you learn about the fact that he completed the painting only to realize that it didn't fit and he had to start all over, after a year and a half, and-so you can do things in the electronic area that are quite magical in terms of the broader context.

JB: I am grateful for that. I find it painful to stand for hours in crowds.

ROWAN: One of the things that we've always tried to make sure people understood is that the electronic version of a painting will never duplicate the painting, will never duplicate the work of art, but it can greatly enhance our understanding of the subject. So that when I first attended a Picasso show, years ago in New York, I didn't understand Picasso, and it was difficult to relate to him at any stage of his life, let alone the cubism. Now, as I've gotten to understand him better, or if we can synthesize art into a form that enhances our understanding of what the artist was trying to accomplish, then the meaning becomes much richer.

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