Archive tip!

I had, so I thought, all I needed. A pile of photograph albums, my camera set up as a copy stand and a new scanner that could take film and prints. On gently peeling back the sticky film on the album page I soon discovered it would be more of a challenge than I had imagined. Having been in the albums in some cases for more than forty years the images were stuck fast! I tried some gentle tugging but it was obvious they were going to tear if I applied too much pressure.

After a bit of a web search I found this great little video from the Smithsonian. I wanted to capture it here because it was so useful and to remind me they offer a range of advice. The answer it seems is dental floss, which is handy because it is also a tool I also use in my food photography (it’s great for cutting soft cheese – the non-minty version obviously!).

It takes a little while to get the hang of but works a treat and I now have my photos released from their lifelong home.




Project Three: The digital family album

Exercise 2.3 (Digital Image & Culture, pg. 51)

In your exercise for this section you’ll produce a piece of work that explores the family album and its iconography.

Produce a series of six photographs (these can be photomontage, staged photography, work using found images, work including images from your own family archives, etc.) which reference the family album in some way.

As I recorded in my learning log I have not looked at our family albums for some time. I suspect there are several reasons for this:

  • We don’t have children so their role as a social, historical and communicative tool is perhaps lessened
  • They are now associated with death and loss as much as life and celebration
  • We tend to share through social media and keep our images only in digital format

I decided I would therefore reacquaint myself with some old friends and use our family albums for this exercise. I thought it would also be useful as preparation for assignment two. I didn’t have a predetermined theme or concept and decided I would just start working through the albums and see what they suggested.

I was taken completely by surprise when the first album I opened was full of negatives, some 35mm and a number in a square format, a mix of both colour and black and white. Some of them I thought I recognised but others I wasn’t sure of the content. There are too many to have them developed commercially without knowing what I might be getting so I decided to try and digitise a few myself to see what happened.

At the time I didn’t have a very high quality scanner so did some online research and found a negative scanning hack using silvered card. Using this and Photoshop I was able to process some of the negatives. After inverting the images they all came out with a blue hue that I decided not to adjust, I also didn’t clean up the images in any way. Linked to some of the background reading I have been doing I recognised a quality in these images that spoke to me of memory and personal history, the fact that the images are slightly obscured and faint felt important in conveying their age and possible reliability as documentary recordings.

I don’t remember these particular instances as I was obviously too young but I do recognise my Mum and other relatives, which enables me to locate them within my family’s history. That said their faces are not in sharp focus so interpreting them is still left slightly open, I know it is me because I am told it is me but I do not have personal recollection of the events. I’m sure this opens up some interesting existential questions.

As part of my research for this exercise I looked at a very wide range of other photographers (I imagine there are many others!):

  • Lorraine O’Grady – Miscegenated family album
  • Larry Sultan – Pictures from Home
  • Sally Mann
  • Mitch Epstein – Family Business
  • Tina Barney – Theatre of Manners
  • Elinor Carucci – Mother
  • Doug Dubois – All the Days and Nights
  • Nan Goldin – the Ballad of Sexual Dependency and other works
  • Richard Billingham – Ray’s a Laugh
  • Gillian Laub – Family Matters
  • Alessandra Sanguinetti – The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and the Enigmatic Meaning of their Dreams
  • Angela Strasshelms – Left Behind
  • Tierney Gearon – The Mother Project
  • Chris Verene – Galesberg Series
  • Briony Campbell – The Dad Project
  • Angela Kelly – Sundays at Sea
  • Eugene Richards – Dorchester Days
  • Shizico Yi – Family Album on Loss and Love
  • Jo Spence – Beyond the Family Album
  • Ralph Eugene Meatyard – The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater

It was interesting to see those who used their own family album to explore essentially autobiographical issues and those for whom it represents a site of activism; a space to explore and expose the politics of representation. It is also noteworthy to see those photographers, who have, created family albums as part of their oeuvre rather than using those taken as snapshots by other family members. In researching just a few photographers it is clear that this is an extensive field in its own right and includes approaches from documentary to composite; from constructed to found images.

The artist that particularly caught my attention as I was researching, someone I hadn’t come across before, was Bohumil Stepan and his ‘Family Oddities.’

Their surreal quality and quirky humour really appealed and surfaced something interesting for me in terms of the relationship between the family snaps and the oral history that often accompanies them. I decided I would start with some stories and then use found images to create a series of portraits that linked to my family album. I came up with a number of family traits and myths and created the following characters (scroll over the image for captions).

What started out as something playful has really made me think about the relationship between the visual and oral tradition, and the fact that family albums are partial tellings. For example, the traditional image of the family dog may tell us they were regarded as significant enough to photograph but it says little of their backstory, which is often only known to the immediate family.

Photographer links:

The full document for Bohumil Stepan is out of print but it can be seen here as a PDF (as featured by Design Observer)

Bohumil Stepan’s Family Album of Oddities_ Design Observer



Archive Fever: Photography between history and the monument

Mindmap of key concepts in Archive Fever essay

Archive Fever Mindmap

This is a very full essay that covers a lot of ground and makes some significant points about the nature of the photographic archive and the role of artists as archivist. I wasn’t sure how best to tackle it so in the end I decided on a mindmap as that helped me capture what I felt the key points were and I could see an overview of the whole essay. The irony of having to categorise and create a typology is not lost on me! I suspect that seeing the Archive Fever exhibition would have given additional context but as that was not possible I have worked with the text and researching some of the photographers individually.

I take from the conclusions the point about the archive acting as a site of suture between past and present, event and image, document and monument. This has helped me think differently about the archive and that it potentially has a more dynamic role than I might have imagined. The mindmap also allows me to keep coming back and revisiting my interpretations.

Two points of interest emerged for me in my reading of Archive fever:

  • The notion of artists reading archives ‘against the grain’ and in so doing creating a new archival structure
  • The relationship between ethnography and the archive and the exploration/question of cultural meanings

Archive Noises: Fontcuberta

In his speech of 1839, to the Academy of Sciences and Academy of Arts in Paris, Francois Arago introduced the daguerreotype and outlined that in his view photography would impinge on two realms of human experience – perception and memory.

This seems to have been incredibly prescient and as Fontcuberta (2014) suggests we are now moving from a period where the custodians of the history of photography were curators, critics and historians to now being photographers, designers and artists. This is not an issue that rests at an individual or community level alone but is something that has been seen in whole nation states. This is vividly described in the post-Franco experience in Spain.

…we are talking about an archive, a repository of memory, and the memory in question is one that half a century before had fractured the country into two halves, leaving deep and lasting wounds that have not been healed. (Fontcuberta, 2014: 171)

In highlighting the issues of the institutionalised memory it is suggested that there is a need for a ‘deconsecrating.’ Joachim Schmid is suggested as an example of this move away from the institution and three of his projects are cited as examples:

  • Masterpieces of Photography. The Fricke and Schmid Collection
  • Archive
  • Statics

Schmid perhaps controversially suggests that all the photographs to be taken have already been taken (a similar view is echoed by Kessels) and as such he calls for a recycling.

…we must recycle existing images because the creative act has shifted to identifying and taking advantage of exquisite garbage. (Fontcuberta, 2014: 175)

As an interesting side note to this I came across this camera designed to ensure you can’t take a photograph where others have already been taken – camera restricta (Schmitt, 2017) I’m still not entirely sure it isn’t a spoof but fascinating that it is raised as an issue!

A further issue that is highlighted in the chapter is that of the ‘photograph as information and as object.’ once again this raises the question of photography’s relationship with reality.  I also wonder if the notion of the photograph as object is shifting as the technologies of production change and the process moves from its origins in glass plates to pixels (and whatever follows). There have been some suggestions that in 10 years the current and arguably the most photographed generation ever will have lost most of their photographs because of digital format changes). (Yost, 2015)

“We are nonchalantly throwing all of our data into what could become an information black hole without realising it. We digitise things because we think we will preserve them, but what we don’t understand is that unless we take other steps, those digital versions may not be any better, and may even be worse, than the artefacts that we digitised,” Cerf told the Guardian. “If there are photos you really care about, print them out.” (Sample, 2015)

Throughout history artists have tried to challenge the authoritative versions of the past. Louise Bourgeois saw it as a liberation to be able to free ourselves from the past. In exploring the work of Schmid what surfaces is the suggestion that our ‘vision is always partial.’ Perhaps Schmid is showing that the fragments are needed to show the image overall. It reminds me of what in narrative terms is described as terse tellings, these are ‘succinct or abbreviated stories that leave scope for the hearer’s imagination.’ (Boje, 1991)

The points I have taken from this chapter are threefold:

  • The archive is potentially boundless and on that basis unknowable
  • That there is a space between memory and forgetting in which the archive can ply a part
  • We ought to be privileging intelligence and creativity over the accretion of information

I am left with a slight confusion at the end of the chapter, and it may be a bit of a tangent, which is about how Fontcuberta sees the relationship between data and information.  In Cybernetics Ackoff introduced the DIKW (Data, Information, Knowledge, and Wisdom) hierarchy model which has tended to suggest there are layers of filtration with data as the starting point. Maybe the white noise of the archive is the data and not the knowledge?

The Rock

Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in the information?

T.S.Eliot, 1934

References and citations:

Boje, D. M. (1991). The Storytelling Organization: A Study of Story Performance in an Office-Supply Firm. Administrative Science Quarterly, 36(1), 106-126.

Fontcuberta, J. (2014). Pandora’s camera: Photogr@ phy after photography: Mack.

Sample, I. (2015). Google boss warns of ‘forgotten century’ with email and photos at risk Retrieved 1st December 2017, from

Schmitt, P. (2017). Camera Restricta: A disobedient tool for taking unique photographs.   Retrieved 1st December 2017, from

Yost, M. (2015). The Most Photographed Generation Will Have No Pictures in 10 Years!   Retrieved 11th December 2017, 2017, from



Project One: The Artist as Curator

Exercise 2.1 (Digital Image and Culture pg: 41)

Bring together a series of 12 images (a typology) in which a particular motif appears again and again. You may use physical found images or images found online. Select an appropriate format to display the images.

Look at the work of Corinne Vionnet and her series ‘Photo Opportunities.’

Part One

Something had obviously been nestling in the back of my mind; I’m sure to do with the current political context and the recent issues of the harassment of women in the workplace. Somehow this manifested itself as looking back to the votes for women campaigns.

I think I’d assumed that there was probably an archive somewhere with lots of images of suffragettes and the suffrage movement. Having looked through a number it seemed it wasn’t that straightforward and while several images kept reappearing like the woman with her two children; getting to twelve was more difficult than I thought it would be. In the end it was through Pinterest I was able to find the most images through a single source.

Twelve images of suffragette votes for women placards

Votes for women

I was particularly interested in the ‘Votes for Women’ placards and sashes as the common motif rather than necessarily the women themselves. In all the images they are prominent and being clearly brandished by the women. I had looked at protest banners in a previous course and found that there is a tendency to use all upper case typography and was surprised to find that although these images are much older the same tradition applies. Just by way of experimentation and because I had already looked at Corinne Vionnet’s work in the last section I decided to create a single layered version. I think there is something quite melancholic about it.

Different images of votes for women placards overlaid

Votes for Women – layered

Having collected those images I was curious about where the campaigns led, not so much from the perspective of women voting but of women then moving into the political domain and taking up roles as MPs.  So I searched for the first women MPs and again found a fairly disparate result using Google images. It was interesting to note how many of those that came up are held behind a paywall with the likes of Getty Images, Alamy or other picture agencies. I found this quite a challenge as these women are part of our shared history and while I respect the rights of the photographers it really posed an interesting question for me about who has access to what kinds of archives.

Portaits of the first 12 English Women MPs

The first twelve women Members of Parliament

The motif of being a female MP might not be immediately evident; I suspect on looking at them they might appear more as society women or possibly writers/actors. They are all single headshots, some looking to camera and some not but I find there is a sense of consistency between them. It may just be that they seem to have an era in common.

These must have been quite extraordinary women for their time and I was a bit saddened to find there doesn’t seem to be a single repository that has their images together. I was eventually able to find all twelve by searching for the women individually, having found their names through the House of Commons Library ‘Women Members of Parliament’ list.

Small portraits of women standing for the 1932 General Election

Women standing for the 1923 General Election

At the same time I was researching the women MPs I found a ready-made typology from the 1923 general election. It was interesting to note the similarities between this and the images I had collected. Most are head and shoulder portraits with the exception of the two full length shots. I’m sure they say a lot about the nature of portraiture at the time.

Part Two

Having been surprised at how much research I had to do find the images in part one I thought I would repeat the exercise with something more mundane. I was also reflecting on some of my reading around Joachim Schmid and the nature of the post photographic era. Looking back to one of my earlier exercises I decided to search for Spaghetti in the open access archive Pixabay. This immediately generated 375 images. A similar search in Adobe Stock showed 172,944 results, Alamy showed 83,735 and Google Images also found thousands. Even restricting my search to ‘Spaghetti AND fork’ it was easy to find a set of 12 images on Pixabay alone.

12 photos of spaghetti dishes in a grid

Spaghetti with fork

I’m not too sure what this comparison tells me at this point but it was fascinating to see the contrast between searching for popular and historic images.