Background: As a photography student in the first decade of the 21st century, I was taught to revere both the qualities of the printed photograph and the ephemeral nature of digital files.
Context: Until recently, the goal of photography has been to fix shadows upon a surface for future viewing. Today, photographs often remain in a state of flux, and we are overwhelmed by their abundance, without really understanding their nature. Whilst institutions employ experts to take responsibility for collecting and preserving collective photographic history, individuals are frequently adopting new photographic practices, even before considering the implications for future generations. If photographs are to be available in the future, then individuals must take responsibility for maintaining their own photographic archives.
Question: How could we alleviate barriers to keeping photographs for posterity?
Objectives: To identify barriers we currently face in keeping photographs for posterity, to propose approaches for alleviating these barriers, and to produce a collection of photo-media based artworks, suitable for exhibition, that creatively respond to the research question.
Methodology: There is no longer a clear...
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS + SEE MORE
At an art book fair, anything goes. There are no rules about what is or isn't an art book — it's an inclusive community, with a niche for everyone (even me). I shared a table with my friend and fellow photographer, Sarah Abad (we share an affinity for tangible photographic vessels).
5 Press (always one of my favourite tables) is a collective of Melbourne-based print makers, including August Carpenter whose monochrome monoprints and hand-bound books posess the gravitas of unique and fragile objects echoing the landscapes they represent (watch this space for a possible collaboration).
When thinking of a tangible photographic vessel, first and foremost the print comes to mind. On most occasions, a print is made up of paper, plus ink or chemicals, which divulge the tones of the image.
The photographic print exists in many forms. The print can be classified as a fine art object, read and commoditised along paintings, sculptures, and more, in an art gallery. The print is innately an historical and cultural artefact, preserving a moment in time on its surface, sometimes created by someone with forethought and sense of archival preservation. The print is taken as authority in the identification of someone on documents such as passports and drivers licences. The physical print is always a tactile, sensory object, it can be owned, given, bought or sold, it can be lost, damaged, or deteriorate over time, and it can also be wholly destroyed. The print is a photograph, a finished image, beyond a negative or digital file, affixed to a surface for future viewing, to reach this process it has often survived rounds of curation and elimination, before being deemed worthy of printing. Printed photographs have traditional...
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS + SEE MORE
Some photographs are tangible – you can touch them, perhaps even hear or smell them, taste them if you really want to, visible with nothing more than a naked eye.
Others are intangible – you can't hold them, and they are only visible whilst being viewed on a screen, decoded by software, reliant on hardware, powered by electricity.
The distinction between analogue and digital photography has faded. While the processes remain distinctly different, we live in a hybrid world. Film is scanned and Instagrammed. Pixels are printed – I can even use my phone to expose instant (Polaroid) photographs.
As I look holistically at photographic practices, the words analogue and digital have become somewhat redundant distinctions. It doesn't matter how a photograph was made, just that it was made.
I recently flew across the sea, with a suitcase full of books, to Photobook NZ, a festival that connects New Zealand's photobook community with the world. Held in Wellington at the Museum of New Zealand: Te Papa Tongarewa and the College of Creative Arts at Massey University, the second biennial festival welcomed high calibre international guests from around the world.
Throughout the lectures I was fortunate enough to attend, the act of returning again and again to a place, and the weaving of poetic words with photographs reverberated. I sadly missed Carolle Bénitah’s talk, who’s work literally strings together photographs, using “beads, coloured threads and scissors to alter her family photographs and albums to explore the memories of her childhood, and as a way to help her underst...
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS + SEE MORE
What barriers exist to keeping photographs for posterity?
How can these barriers be alleviated?
Do you have photographs of your parents? Of your grandparents? What about your great-grandparents, or great-great-grandparents? How many of your ancestors left photographs of themselves behind for you to see?
Maternal Grandmother? Yes.
Maternal Grandfather? Yes.
Paternal Grandmother? Yes.
Paternal Grandfather? Yes.
Maternal Grandmother's Parents? Yes, both.
Maternal Grandfather's Parents? Mother only, aka Grandma Bessie.
Paternal Grandmother's Parents? Yes, I think.
Paternal Grandfather's Parents? Probably.
Great-great-grandparents? Let me have a Google and get back to you!
How could we
mitigate alleviate barriers obstacles
our photographs for posterity?
I should be more specific. Do your digital photographs have filenames? Of course, by nature, they must. But, what are those files called? Do they have unique names, or simply the names generated by your camera? If you consciously name a set of files, do they all get the same descriptor, or are they each customised? Do you name your folders too? If you go to the trouble of naming your photographs I'd assume you also name your folders, but what do you name them?
I don't name my RAW files, I let the camera do that for me. Although if it allows I will choose to insert my initials into the filename. When, if, I save JPEG, TIFF or other files, I'll batch name the files "YYYYMMDD_Description_##" which translates to something like "20171202_Home_01" or "20180304_Posteritas_©ChloeFerres_01" although this is mainly for the benefit of family, friends or clients who I share photographs with.
But, no matter what, I always systematically name the virtual folders that contain my digital photographs. In my early days, that meant sorting photographs into folders like "Family" with subfolders such as "Chloe" or "Evie" (the family dog). As my photographs multiplied (and I learnt from professional photographers) this method proved to be chaotic and unsustainable. Over a decade ag...
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS + SEE MORE
Description: "In A.D. 79, Mount Vesuvius erupted violently, spewing pyroclastic flows across the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The eruption has become one of the most famous in history because the speed of the hot gases caught the locals unawares. The intense heat captured many features of city life, including individuals as macabre still-lifes. Much of this detail was then preserved beneath huge volumes of ash that rained down on the region. One of the discoveries made in 1752 in Herculaneum was of an intact library. This contained large numbers of papyrus scrolls of philosophical texts, many associated with the Epicurean philosopher Philodemus of Gadara. This is the only complete library that has survived from antiquity. And while many of the rolls were destroyed by workmen at the time and by scientists and archaeologists later, some 1,800 rolls survive, most of them in the Naples National Archaeological Museum in Italy."
Relevance: Today the scrolls are somewhat visible (mediated by technology) only because of their physical structure. "The material itself is built up from crisscrossed papyrus fibers that form a perpendicula...
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS + SEE MORE
Description: "Beginning on July 25th, 2014, one photograph will be destroyed each day for a period of one year. The remnants of every photograph will be collected, documented, saved, and exhibited at the conclusion of the year." Although the project appears to have been abandoned on day 72.
Relevance: This systematic destruction of physical photographs reveals what remains after deliberate destruction. To me, destroying digital photographic data seems like it would more finite – data you've handed over to someone or something else is a different story.
Title: Library of Ashurbanipal
Year: 7th Century BC
Description: "Late Babylonian clay tablet: table of lunar longitudes. Contains a table for the daily change in the duration of the visibility of the moon on the thirty days of the month of the winter solstice according to the tradition of the city of Babylon." From a series of cuneiform clay tablets excavated in Kouyunjik, northern Iraq, believed to be the remains of King Ashurbanipal (668-c.630 BC) of Assyria's great library.
Significance: These clay tablets have weathered thousands of years, and still retain enough information for us to read. How long will our modern tablets last? I suspect that the iPad I am typing on will not be able to show you these words in a few decades, let alone hundreds of thousands of years...
The Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto exhibited Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross, buried in 1944, dug up in 1945.
Artist: Stephen Gill
Description: Stephen Gill created a photobook of pictures buried where they were taken."The amount of time the images were left underground varied depending on the amount of rainfall. The depths that the pictures were buried at also varied, as did their positioning. Sometimes they were facing each other, sometimes back to back or sometimes buried singly... Not knowing what an image would look like once it was dug up introduced an element of chance and surprise which I found appealing. This feeling of letting go and in a way collaborating with place — allowing it also to work on putting the finishing touches to a picture — felt fair. Maybe the spirit of the place can also make its mark."
Significance: The artist has introduced an element of chance, of manufactured wabi-sabi to his work. It is not the first time photographs have been buried...
Artist: Dayanita Singh
Description: "File Room is an elegy to paper in the age of the digitization of information and knowledge. The analogue photographer and bookmaker has a unique relationship with paper that is integral not only to the work of making of images, texts and memory, but also to a larger confrontation with chaos, mortality and disorder in the labyrinths of working bureaucratic archives in a country of more than a billion people."
Significance: Dayanita Singh's photographs of papers printed on beautiful matte paper and bound in a book is a cyclical celebration, as is much of her work including Museum Bhavan which repackages museums into concertina books or miniature museums which were subsequently exhibited in galleries and museums around the world. Her work is proof that the SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS + SEE MORE
Artist: Patrick Pound
Description: "An avid collector, Patrick Pound is interested in systems and the ordering of objects: an attempt, perhaps, to make things coherent. As Pound says, ‘to collect is to gather your thoughts through things’."
Significance: Pound’s practice includes purchasing orphaned photographs on eBay, in his words, “photographers used to put photographs in albums and in boxes to be viewed and reviewed at will. Photographs were never made to be scanned and redistributed on eBay. Whether they are analogue or digital, printed photographs have an afterlife that no one saw coming.” His collections of prints, highlight clichés, in both subject matter and treatment of photographs, for example the destruction of people no longer wanted in physical memory. Through his work, Pound observes the ubiquitous changing nature of photography which, “used to be the medium of record. Now it is equally the medium of transmission.”
A photograph is always of the past, therefore all existing photographs have survived to reside in the present future...
How can we ensure the perpetual existence of our photographs into the future? How could we mitigate barriers to keeping photographs for posterity?
Conversations with my sister recently reignighted my role as family historian. It’s been more than a few years since I’ve actively researched ancestors, known and unknown — I was surprised at how quickly, and easily, I fell back down the rabbit hole, into a wonderland of information. I was particularly delighted to discover photographs I’d never seen, of relatives I’ve never met. While I do wonder about the joy these photographs bring me, I’m curiouser (and curiouser) about the journey of these photographs, from their past, into my future.
Artist: Sarah Abad
Description: "Whether a hand written note, a number representing the batch or the negative, the brand of the paper or the name of a photographic studio, each of these markings presents a story and are beautiful and fascinating in their own right."
Artist: Erik Kessels
Description: "Thanks to the wealth of image sharing sites and the availability of digital cameras, the world is subjected to an avalanche of new photos every single day. For ‘24 Hrs In Photos,’ a single day was chosen, and the images for that day printed out. The result were mountains of photos, reaching from gallery floor to ceiling."
Significance: A key issue I have independently identified is the abundance of photographs, a sea of information, and we’re barely keeping afloat. This work beautifully manifests the concept.