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.