Behind the Scenes: Identifying the Once Upon a Time Photographs
Everyone has their favorite section in the Jewish Times. For some it’s the Jewish View, others it’s the milestone life events. If you’re like me it’s the Snapshots photograph in the Mishmash section. Will this be the week that you’ll recognize someone—maybe even yourself—in the photo?
I might be biased as my volunteers and interns help select which images are reproduced, but I genuinely love the excited phone calls from first-time identifiers. They feel like they’ve won a prize when they proudly tell me who they know! On the other hand, I am sad someone says they recognized folks in the past but they didn’t want to call in because they figured someone else called, or that I already knew who was in the picture before we printed it. (Trust me: we have thousands of photographs that need IDs so I wouldn’t waste your time with those that are already identified.)
There is also no penalty for (unintentionally) getting it wrong. In fact 6 people in 5 different photos have been given a “double identity.” Both names are recorded.
And while I prefer that you provide the whole name, this year we had 3 first names and 5 last names given. Perhaps this will spark someone else’s memory.
I thought I’d run some year-end statistics on this popular feature for your consideration. Since beginning this column in 2007 there has been a steady 63-65% identification rate. This year 91 people called in to identify someone—132 someones! This means on average, each caller identified 1.4 people. 63.4% of the images published in 2013 were at least partially identified. And of those 33 photos, 64 % of the people depicted (132 of 206) were identified.
I asked my favorite statistician, Ben, why our identification rate is so consistent. His response was: With enough of a randomly selected sample you can minimize the error [in this case, no identifications]… As you continue to increase your sample, you will get closer to the underlying probability or “natural rate.” In the case of your photographs the true underlying probability that a photo will be identifies is around 2/3. That seems to make sense, right?Naturally I was intrigued so I looked a little deeper into our identifications. It seems that photographs with 5 or more people are more 14.6% more likely to have even one person identified (69.6%) than photographs with 4 or fewer people (55%). Personal photographs of an intimate group might go entirely unidentified, but pictures from an institution, organization, or school almost always get at least one identification. The one major exception: there seems to be a black hole of knowledge related to photos taken at the JCC in the 1970s.
Armed with this new-found knowledge I can probably increase our identification rate slightly by choosing group photos from fun community events dating after 1950s. How can you help our efforts? Call or e-mail me if you recognize someone in a Snapshots photo. Even if you don’t subscribe to the Jewish Times, the JMM posts the photos on all of our social media outlets. You can also search our database jmm.pastperfect-online.com and enter keywords such as “Walk for Israel”, “Beth Tfiloh” or “Summer Camps.” Click the “send feedback” button and tell me who you recognize. Using this feature, three callers identified 55 out of 57 people in four photographs – a 96% success rate. Now that’s a statistic we should strive for ever year!