The Newspaper and Photos project: unlocking a rich collection of press photos with the help of AI

Published on: 22 December 2021

Numerous iconic photos have been burned into our retinas. Take the Chinese protester who stopped a row of tanks on Tiananmen Square, for example, or the Dutch Mad Minas who bared their bare bellies to reveal the text ‘Boss of your own belly'. These photos are snapshots of reality that were used in newspapers to tell narratives. But where did these photos originate? Were there perhaps other photos of that same event taken by press photographers? And what stories were written about it in the newspapers?

Press photographers often take lots photos of an event but only one usually appears in the paper. Nowadays, both the newspapers and the original photo series can be found in digitised form, but searching for these sources and finding the links between them is still a manual task.

Using artificial intelligence

In this project, image recognition is used as one of the AI techniques for linking archived press photos to newspaper collections, unlocking the wealth of press photo archives. This technique makes it easier to find out the full story behind a single press photo.

The complete story behind one photo in the paper

How AI can give us a richer perspectives on the past is illustrated by the story of Minka Hodzic. In 1993, at the age of eleven, Minka fled with her family from Bosnia to the Netherlands. Her arrival in Haarlem was reported on by the Haarlems Dagblad, including a photo of her with her mother. When Minka went searching for her past a quarter of a century later, she was surprised to find that the press photographers of Fotopersbureau De Boer had taken not just one photo but fifty-seven. In the end, these turned out to be the oldest preserved images of her family and friends. Discovering these photos helped Minka reconstruct a missing part of her life. After years of searching, Minka had closure about that period. She found out that her story was relevant to today’s influx of refugees too. Thanks to her story, we can see the importance of connecting heritage collections together to uncover a hidden story.

At the end of the project, users will be able to enter a search query on and AI will help them find the right answer. For the time being, this project only covers photos from the 1970s from Nieuwsblad van het Noorden, IJmuider Courant and Haarlems Dagblad.

Encouraging the development of image recognition

The Noord-Hollands Archief, Groninger Archives, the technology companies Sioux Technologies and Picturae, and the National Library of the Netherlands have joined forces to use AI to connect up the newspapers and the photos. The project shows how significant AI can be for production processes within the culture and media sector. The results will be shared within the NL AIC’s network, which will help encourage the development of image recognition algorithms.

Made possible by:

Ministry of Education, Culture and Science

More information

If you are interested, more information can be found on
Contact: Michel de Gruijter,

Photo: Demonstration by young people in Groningen against the acquisition of American F-16 fighters. Front page of Nieuwsblad van het Noorden, 3 February 1975. Photo: Van der Veen Collection/Groninger Archives

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