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 https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/feb/13/google-boss-warns-forgotten-century-email-photos-vint-cerf

Schmitt, P. (2017). Camera Restricta: A disobedient tool for taking unique photographs.   Retrieved 1st December 2017, from https://philippschmitt.com/projects/camera-restricta

Yost, M. (2015). The Most Photographed Generation Will Have No Pictures in 10 Years!   Retrieved 11th December 2017, 2017, from https://mikeyostphotography.wordpress.com/2015/01/31/the-most-photographed-generation-will-have-no-pictures-in-10-years/