[14Jun20, p.118] Recycling or repurposing images in bulk.
The first example given is by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin who were invited to work with a photo archive from Northern Ireland covering The Troubles. They produced two projects:
People in Trouble Laughing Pushed to the Ground (Contacts) and
People in Trouble Laughing Pushed to the Ground (Dots).
In Dots, they reinterpreted a colour-coding system used within the archive photographs to select and organise the exhibition and describe the process and the effect as,
The position of the dots provided us with a code; a set of instructions for how to frame the photographs in this book. Each of the circular photographs shown … reveals the area beneath these circular stickers; the part of each image that has been obscured from view the moment it was selected. Each of these fragments – composed by the random gesture of the archivist - offers up a self-contained universe all of its own; a small moment of desire or frustration or thwarted communication that is re-animated here after many years in darkness. Broomberg & Chanarin
[15Jun, [p.120]] Next to Nicky Bird's Question for Seller series. Bird created a new vernacular archive (of sorts) by buying family photographs on ebay and asking the sellers about them. She is quoted in the cmat,
Question for Seller originated from my interest in family photographs that appear on eBay. I purchased photographs that no-one else bid for, with the connotation that they were unwanted, and therefore with no significant value. The seller was approached with the question – How did you come across the photos and what, if anything, do you know about them? Their replies, however brief, are as important as the photographs they are selling – sometimes alluding to a part of a discarded family history, or the everyday, where personal photographs have long since lost their original meaning.” cmat p.120, http://nickybird.com/projects/question-for-seller/
Articles about clearing the belongings of dead relatives are common, at least in my news sources. They describe family photographs, often collated (or sometime even curated) into albums and, even when the subjects are noted, they are little known to the survivors and the albums often (albeit with some regret) discarded: sometimes they are stored in the loft to be discarded when downsizing or by the next generation, but it eventually happens when sufficient distance is established.
Box C contains a personal example, previously unearthed for C&N Part 3, Exercise 3.3
Another take on creating an instant themed vernacular archive is the recent Your Stonehenge – 150 years of personal photos exercise which unearthed what was billed as, 'Earliest ever family photo taken at Stonehenge' and became part of an exhibition for which , 'pictures were selected from the hundreds submitted in response to last year's call to mark 100 years of public ownership of the monument' (English Heritage).
There are more details and examples in a Smithsonian article by Brigit Katz.
Incidentally, Stonehenge has been photographed by many of our great practitioners, so let us pause for a small exhibition.
Question for Seller re-situates images in a different context and in so doing allows for a new dialogue to take place. Reflect on the following in your learning log:
• Does their presence on a gallery wall give these images an elevated status?
• Where does their meaning derive from?
• When they are sold (again on eBay, via auction direct from the gallery) is their value increased by the fact that they’re now ‘art’?
Q1 It undoubtedly does. This drifts is back towards the is photography art? debate that I began considering at the beginning of Part 5 and to which I must return in due course. The answer to that question (so far) is that after decades of debate, it was decided in the affirmative through museums and galleries exhibiting and selling photographs alongside paintings etc., thereby de facto establishing its parity status. This also legitimised photography-only galleries, a ball which Stieglitz had started rolling as long ago as 1905 with his gallery at 291 Fifth Avenue NY. As noted above, Question for Seller was commissioned by Belfast Exposed which defines itself as 'Northern Ireland's premier contemporary photography organisation'. By appearing in the gallery (see fig. B1) , the QfS images become part of an artistic entity rather than unwanted snaps. It remains questionable whether each image becomes an art object in itself: it can be argued that their new status is only conferred by virtue of being parts of the curated entity.
Q2 This has already been touched upon: their new meaning (because it is new and it only exists by association) is bestowed through the process of being chosen by Nicky Bird and one her criteria was that no-one else wanted them, there were no other bidders: they were therefore judged to be of zero interest and zero value by the ebay cognoscenti.
Q3 In my personal view, not at all. I value and cherish vernacular photographs, but only if I choose and acquire them myself. The fact that these have been chosen by Nicky Bird and shown at Belfast Exposed does not interest me. That said, I would not be surprised to learn that others might want to buy them.
My profound admiration for the Cohen Collection is another matter entirely. The act of curation in this case is done to creative effect.
Some are born with photo archives ,
some assemble photo archives (Cohen and Bird)
and some have photo archives thrust upon them (Broomberg & Chanarin).
But Zoe Leonard and Cheryl Dunye created their own entirely spurious piece, The Fae Richards Photo Archive, to fill a void they identified in photo-history.
Leonard and Dunye concluded that African-American women were under-represented and set out to remedy that with images of their fictional Hollywood star.
Q. Do you have any archives that you could have access to? Might you be able to use it for
the beginnings of a project? Blog about some ideas that you could come back to some
A. As luck would have it, I have the perfect digital equivalent of the found archive. A year or so ago I spent £30 on ebay on a Canon S120, a surprisingly able pocket camera which came with a memory card that had not been cleared by the previous owner. I have always been in two minds whether should reformat it, but I never have. The contents are the world travels of an aging couple meeting (it is assumed) friends and family. It would be interesting to adopt their personas and create a fictional account of their lives.
It would also make an excellent starting point for a who-done-it.
Record a real conversation with a friend. (It’s up to you whether you ask permission
Before listening to the recording, write your account of both sides of the conversation.
Then listen to the recording and make note of the discrepancies. Perhaps there are unfinished sentences, stammers, pauses, miscommunications etc. Reflect upon the believability of re-enacted narratives and how this can be applied to constructed photography. What do you learn from the conversation recording process and how can you transfer what you learned into making pictures?
Extrapolation and interpolation.
[16Jun20, p.121] This exercise was undertaken during corona virus restrictions.
I asked my partner to tell me a story from her childhood that I had not heard before. The story related to a village cricket match from the early 1960s when her family was sitting close to a car which was hit by the ball, smashing the windscreen. I asked questions along the way to clarify and elaborate some details. Mrs. B did not recall the name of the opponents, who was batting or who won the game.
I found that my mind tends to wander off the subject, spinning off to fill in details or to predict what was going to happen next. I only retained a broad outline of the story and I had constructed some pieces of my own.
I would describe my thought processes as successive and polyphase extrapolation and interpolation: while I asked some questions, I made some of the detail up too, especially concerning the people I know from the family.
It became clear that oral narratives to not have to be sequential or complete: the listener will follow circumlocutions and fill in gaps and the same can apply to visual narratives. This is one thing I learned on a film-making course in the 1970s (Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff) — the students were inclined at first to cut the film to be a continuous timeline but the teacher demonstrated that the audience is used to interpolating the space between cuts.
That is nominally the end of the course, with Asg.5 to go, but there is a conclusion and an appendix and, of course, my Part 5 conclusion an Final Upsumming.
Other people's archives can be recycled for artistic or social ends: if an archive with a particular slant is not available then you can make one.
Part 5 Project 2 - Local References
Belfast Exposed (nd) About us [online]. belfastexposed.org. Available from https://www.belfastexposed.org/about/about-us/ [Accessed 15 June 2020].
English Heritage (2019) IS THIS THE EARLIEST FAMILY PHOTO TAKEN AT STONEHENGE? [online]. english-heritage.org.uk. Available from https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/about-us/search-news/your-stonehenge-exhibition-opens/ [Accessed 15 June 2020].
Katz, B. (2019) SEE 150 YEARS OF STONEHENGE FAMILY PHOTOS [online]. smithsonianmag.com. Available from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/150-years-stonehenge-family-photos-come-together-new-exhibition-180973782/ [Accessed 15 June 2020].