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How Wikipedia helped create a Serbian stamp

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By Vysotsky
Details matter. Wikipedians can spend extraordinary amounts of time just checking and correcting a small detail. Sometimes this obsession with detail yields extraordinary results. - S

Success has many fathers. This story is a small but beautiful example of how Wikipedia helps with the reproduction of images, told via the stories of the "fathers" of the image in question.

Photographer Rob Mieremet

Matulović, wrongly identified as Browne, Dutch National Archives 2011 (visited 24 Oct. 2021)

This story begins on the 17th of January 1974 in the small city of Beverwijk, in the Netherlands. The 36th edition of the Wijk aan Zee chess tournament is taking place, and it attracts a multitude of chess grandmasters from across the world: Argentina, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Spain and the US (though, notably, no Russians). The tournament was (and still is) sponsored by steel producer Hoogovens, later Tata Steel.

The tournament concludes and is won by the American chess and poker player Walter Browne, with a score of 11/15. Local Dutch newspapers, without the budget to pay photographers of their own, rely on photo news agencies for pictures of the event. The Anefo photo agency sends Rob Mieremet. He shoots 13 photographs in total. Mieremet (1947–2015), as winner of the Silver Camera award for best Dutch photographer in 1973, is certainly a good photographer, but he is no ardent lover of chess. He is unsure as to the name of one of the players, so he names one of the photographs "Browne" (assuming it to be Walter Browne, the tournament winner). The photo is thus filed as "Browne". Despite this, any chess players would know the pictured person to be the famous Serbian chess player Milan Matulović (who would go on to take bronze in the tournament).

Anefo and Dutch National Archives

"Browne" uploaded to Wikimedia Commons (23 Oct. 2018); name changed to "Matulović"

After 44 years of operation, Anefo closed its doors in 1989, and its photo archives were handed over to the Netherlands Government Information Service (Rijksvoorlichtingsdienst). The collection was further transferred to the Dutch National Archives (Nationaal Archief) in 1996. In 2011 the National Archives and partner Spaarnestad Photo uploaded 350,000 photographs to the database – originally under a Creative Commons license (CC-BY-SA-3.0), later under a CC-zero license, which made most photographs freely available. Several thousand of these photographs were then uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Wikipedia volunteers, with the intention that they be used in Wikipedia articles.

Wikipedians Mr.Nostalgic and Vysotsky

Matulović on a Serbian stamp, 2020

One such volunteer was Mr.Nostalgic. A Dutch Wikipedian, and a keen photographer himself, Mr.Nostalgic works for a pharmaceutical company, and photography is his hobby. He saw value in the National Archives collection, and decided to upload 350,000 photos to Wikimedia Commons on his own initiative, in his spare time, using 5 laptops and Pulover's Macro Creator.

Over a period of five months, Mr.Nostalgic uploaded 2,000 photos to Wikimedia Commons a day, including 270k photos from the original Anefo archives. Lo and behold: the photograph of Milan Matulović, still disguised as "Browne", snuck its way into Wiki Commons on 23 October 2018. That same evening, another Wikipedian (me – Vysotsky) identified "Browne" as "most probably Milan Matulović", and added the photograph to several different language versions of the Wikipedia article about Matulović. Two years later (Nov. 2020), Wikipedia user Materialscientist uploaded a cropped version of the photo.

Pošta Srbije and Boban Savic

In 2020, the national postal service of Serbia, Pošta Srbije, decided to honour five chess grandmasters. They chose "the first Serbian chess grandmaster, chess bohemian and romantic, globetrotter and polyglot" Bora Kostić, alongside Petar Trifunović, Milan Matulović, Milunka Lazarević and, of course, Svetozar Gligorić.

The artistic design was done by Boban Savic, but the original images were supplied by the Serbian Chess Federation and a sports journalist. These original images were without a doubt obtained via Wikimedia Commons. Not only was the image of Matulović almost certainly taken from the original Anefo photograph, but the photo used of Petar Trifunović bore similarities to another Anefo photograph by Harry Pot from 1962. The inevitable conclusion: Serbian postage owes a debt to Wikipedia-style cooperation.

Three Wikipedians worked together with two non-Wikipedians and several institutions, all separated by time and geography, to achieve a real world result that none of them might have expected.

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