Research Part 2 Project 2 The Artist as Archivist

Notes on Project 2 Text

“I don’t see any necessity in producing images myself. Everything I need exists, it’s just about finding it”   Oliver Laric

The archive is now on the internet and contains photos from all types of camera including the phone.

Refer to Erik Kessels “In almost every picture” where he documents from found images, discarded photo albums, in flea markets. Series of photos # 7 is the most interesting , of Ria van Dijk at a shooting gallery each year of her life.

Kessels believes that our mistakes are important – ref. #13. In almost every picture , a thumb occludes part of the picture.

Fontcuberta believes that chance is very important and a lot of chance is now being removed from photos, e.g. the new digital photobooths give customers the opportunity to reject a picture before it is printed and try again.

Cutting out the chance element is creatively dangerous.

The Body and the Archive – Allan Sekula

This is a really difficult essay to read, full of pretention and unnecessarily over complicated. However, deep down in the meat of the material, there is some worthwhile content and is just about worth the effort to extract.

In the mid 19th century, it was believed that there was a link between the external appearance of a person and his / her individual character (via physiognomy and phrenology).

Adolphe Quetelet  tried to define the “average man” from which all could be compared. He looked at women’s fertility in comparison to age and he defined the “average worker”.

Bertillon analysed criminals and this was where photography was likely to become useful – to show pictures of criminal – like people. 100,000 pictures were collected in the French police force but there was very little result and from this, Bertillon was one of the first to realise the fundamental problem of the archive, that there is too much information to be ploughed through. He continued to develop a method of photography for comparison so that certain parameters (focal length, lighting, distance between sitter and camera) were always the same.

Galton (Darwin’s cousin) is significant for developing the first statistical methods for studying heredity. He developed composites which took the main features from different people. He believed he had translated the Gaussian error curve into photographic form.

Lewis Hine also made composites (of female millworkers in 1913) to trace the effect of factory work on young bodies. These examples were the “collapsed version” of the archive.

This all leads to the invention of archiving. The first systems were developed by Bertillon and Galton. Bertillon sought to embed the photograph in the archive. Galton sought to embed the archive in the photograph. Bertillon won.

The information was initially used for art history, military intelligence and other.


Link 4: The Vanishing Art of the Family Photo Album (Erik Kessels)

The function of the family photo has changed. It used to be personal for the album. It is now shared with everybody via social media.

Kessels put together “Album Beauty” exhibition to provide a meditation on the nature of obsolescence. He uses found and anonymous family photos after rummaging through flea markets.

Some of his finds he has blown up hugely. Some are the original size. The work describes a form of beauty which lists the detritus of beauty, boredom, travel, companionship, innocence, youth, pride and participation.

In the past the average family kept eight albums:

  • When the couple met (his photos of her)
  • The wedding
  • The first child
  • Four assorted albums (holidays, children, dogs etc.)
  • The final album, the couple alone again, the landscape bigger with her smaller in the frame

Kessels looked mainly for the dissonant, the banal, the disruption to ritualised harmony within family photography.


Link 5: Archive Fever “Photography between History and the Monument (Okwui Enwenzor)

The archive has many definitions:

“The Archive is the law of what can be said, the system that governs the appearance of statements as unique events” (Foucault)

“A mechanism through which we return to the past, compiling indexes of comparisons and tables of facts that generate their own public and private meanings” (Stanley Cavell)

“The body and the Archive” by Allan Sekula refers to the work of Bertillon (analysing the characteristics of a criminal) and Galton (analysing racial characteristics for social control).

Duchamp developed a photographic archive miniaturising his entire world of discovering into a deluxe edition of reproductions, into a mobile museum (La Boite en Valise 1935 – 41).

This was the finest attempt of archiving in its day.

Gerhard Richter’s “Atlas” (1964 – present) is an open ended compendium of panels but was criticised for its difficulty to follow because it was sequential.

The archive can best be described as “a compensation of the unwieldy, diachronic state of photography and exists as a representational form of the ungainly dispersion and pictorial multiplicity of the photograph”

The archival impulse has animated modern art since the invention of photography. Rodchenko and Heartfield used the archive (as documentary apparatus).

Use of the archive was more active with post war modernists – taking us into the era of Richter’s generation.

There is a haunting portrait from Craig Horsfield’s study of pre – solidarity Poland “Magda Mierwa and Leszek Mierwa” . A lot of the impact from this photograph is the fact that the timing of release was not immediate.

Horsfield’s nude is set against the exact time of its making next to the year of its full realisation as a work thus stressing the importance of archival time. There is often a large time lag between “taking” and “printing”.

Today the timing data is so prolific that it is more difficult to see the image gel in the artist’s own consciousness.

Stan Douglas’s “Overture” links photographs with sound recordings of Proust’s “In search of lost Time”. Proust is about time and its disappearance and the link is not coincidental.

Much as I love Proust and in particular this book, I cannot see the drama generated by Stan Douglas’s “Overture”. I will stay with pure Proust.


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