Activating the Archive
Contemporary Uses of Visual Archives
5’th May 2018
Early train to Bristol then a sunny walk along the river to The Arnolfini. The doors to the theatre are closed and do not open for half an hour as there is a problem with the projector. The Arnolfini bar do not have a non-alcoholic beer or lager so I go to café nearby and have to wait as the man behind the counter is on the phone! They also do not have an LA lager so I enjoy a Dandelion and Burdock cordial.
Will this day discuss the archive and consider its worth or are we just going to listen to a group of archivists talk about their work? It turns out to be a day devoted mostly to artist’s talks but they are enjoyable and detached in their approach rather than self-indulgent speeches.
The symposium starts with a talk by IC Visual Labs outlining their workshops and exhibitions. “Alone with Empire” is a forthcoming event about empire described as “ a 1-1 art experience combining photographs, film and sound from the British Empire and Commonwealth Collection (BECC) in a curated environment at the Vestibules space, Bristol City Hall. Working with our project partner Bristol Archives, this will be the first large-scale artistic commission using BECC material. Through this installation we aim to increase the visibility of an internationally important collection, within the city of Bristol, whilst also touching upon many current discussions around the city and its history.” There is also another similar event nearby in Bristol called Empire Through the Lens; the city has a strong association with the slave trade.
Francesca Seravalle gives a talk entitled “Everything has its first time”
In 2013, during some ‘archaeological’ research to discover more information about the first photo uploaded to the internet, Francesca Seravalle realized that there were thousands of First Photos that reveal the beauty of the discovery of photography and have the power to change our society. “I started to chase many first photos (from the 1820s to the present day) following four tracks: photographic inventions, scientific and technological discoveries, historical landmarks, and first seen visions of nature.”
First photo on the internet!? There are many different kinds of first image!
Inspired by Italian photographer Lorenzo Vitturi
Studied archaeology but physically demanding so changed to history of art Wanted to be a curator rather than a creative. Worked for Magnum in Paris Worked with Erik Kessels also on the archive of modern conflict in London as well as being involved with Japanese photography.
The body of work she is presently concerned with is a history of photography, first photos of different subjects which involved an examination of photography Owing to different processes e.g. 1843 first photo book by Anna Atkins, first photoshopped photo by Thomas Knoll of his wife (Knoll is a Photoshop engineer). Often difficult to determine first of this or that so some images could be contested notably the first photograph! 1861 first projected colour photograph; 1826 Niepce first photo using camera; Fox Talbot first negative; 1832 first photo copy by Brazilian; 1839 first published image of a photograph. “Until Proven Otherwise” is the way her work is labelled She won an award at Format Festival 2017 Her exhibitions can be shabby! Integrating photographs in environment Highly original way of working with photography genuinely award winning! She is not a photographer but works with photography very cleverly Inspiring work also amusing!!
A short break
Charbel Saad – Arab Image Foundation
Charbel Saad is the head of digital collections at the Arab Image Foundation. Established in Beirut in 1997, the Foundation holds a collection of more than 600,000 photographs from the mid-19th century to the present day. The Foundation has produced fifteen exhibitions and eight publications in partnership with international museums, galleries and cultural institutions. The collection has also provided an invaluable resource for artists’ projects, curatorial initiatives and academic research. The contents of the AIF’s collection reflect both the general preservation mandate of the foundation and the specific research interests of its members. The artists, writers, filmmakers and historians affiliated with the AIF have, to date, initiated research projects in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Iraq, Iran, Mexico, Argentina and Senegal. The result is a dynamic and at times idiosyncratic collection that does not merely illustrate the history of photography in the region but rather situates a wealth of different photographic practices in a complex field of social, economic, political and cultural factors.
Talking about the institution but also the significance of the work today
Started after 15 years of civil war to gather imagery from a disappearing Arab world Collecting material such as old albums Called
Arab Image Foundation Not easy to get hold of photographs owing to conservatism Women removed from albums Images more from upper class though they did photograph lower classes
Not room to store photographs Fear of Islamic fundamentalism Loss owing to war
Publishing work of photographers
Conservation and Digitisation
About 300 collections within this such as by particular family, photographer etc
Photo Jack a way to catalogue photographs by placing negatives between pages; not best practice but a valid approach to curating and preservation Scanning entire image along with colour strip eg IT 24 High definition
Scanning materiality of photographic object as well as photographs Digital restoration of images not necessary and can interfere Different methods of scanning
Collectors Photographers Studios and Families
Photography at funerals established practice in North Lebanon
Marie El-Khazen a woman photographer from an aristocratic family Amateur who liked to play with different effects of photography She died in 1983 before giving any interviews on her work which gives a view of her world
Mohamed Orabi liked quirky scenes Lack of knowledge about subjects Guessing dates via practices Obscene photographs yet mostly of people in ordinary situations
Studio Fouad brothers who made studio portraits of the well to do Went separate ways Not easy to discover facts about them
Frank and Laure Skeels teachers of archaeology yet collection only emerged after their death Again little known about it such as why images made Egyptian photographing TV screen images, screen shots.
Arab Image Foundation funded by Western organisations in Europe and America not from within Arabia Employs seven people Focusing on multiple copies in different locations Not great IT support In Lebanon!!
More work by Arab photographers being published. Copyright laws exist so agreements are made with photographers
They are planning to launch a new website in September 2018 where high resolution images will be made visible For public not just professionals No National Archives in Lebanon rather privately owned
Kensuke Koike – Today’s curiosity
Koike’s collage works are known for his playfulness and humorous approaches to archival material. During this symposium, Koike’s video-art pieces from his series “Today’s curiosity” was screened at intervals throughout the day.
Some video by Kentsuke Koike shows using a pasta cutter to shred photographic prints then rearrange pieces!
Amak Mahmoodian – NeghaB
Not a long time passed from the invention of photography in Europe before photography arrived in Iran. According to Tahmasbooor (Photographer Naserod_din shah, 2002) as early as 1844 (1260 in the Iranian calendar) an Iranian woman, for the first time, stood as the subject for a photographer. The portrait was made by the Qajar king Naserod-din shah, who took up photography as a result of being given the gift of a camera from Queen Victoria. In 2004, I visited the Golestan museum and worked on my archival research for 2 years. Golestan Archives are located in central Tehran, which was once a home for Qajar women, and the king’s wives, Harem women. I looked at the archival photographs from the Qajar period and chose a number of photographs, which I used as masks. I started taking photographs of women around me, whom I see every day. In some photos there were so many masks on a face that I forget the real face. The woman hiding behind the mask of the past has many of the past attributes that I can see and feel. Women were the same women – does it make a difference what the faces look like? Women today have concealed their faces behind masks of the past, because similar restrictions have remained in place. The mask can hide the woman’s face but it can not hide the ‘truth’ which is behind the mask.
She is from Iran also another female speaker All so far from abroad
1979 revolution Amak learnt to converse with photograph of her father as she was separated from him and other family members
Decided to become a photographer as there was a need and interest
A king with 170 wives who learnt photography
Working with old albums that make up an archive but lack information such as that relating to feelings of subjects Names of people portrayed sometimes available Photographing women could have dire consequences
Diary published in 1992 helped Proud to be photographed but suffered hardship as one among so many wives Forced to wear black for instance Lack of identity Stereotyping of women! Telling her story gives these women a voice Using a photograph in front of the face as a mask; subject chooses mask! Bringing past to present. Collaborating not just with people she knew but also strangers. Now wants to edit photographs and make a book! Taboo to show man and woman together even if from same family How to read these photographs!?
Amak also tired of stereotyping by Western media so worked with making more intimate photographs of women also their fingerprints
Shenasnameh published by RRB Publishing; video available on Vimeo
A short break
Vicki Bennett (first and only UK speaker)
“Processing The Product”
A talk by Vicki Bennett (People Like Us) reflecting upon 25+ years of creating audiovisual media, sharing information and insights on creating large scale works using preexisting material. Since 1991 Vicki Bennett has been making CDs, radio, and A/V multimedia under the name People Like Us. By animating and recontextualising found footage collages Vicki gives an equally witty and dark view of popular culture with a surrealistic edge. People Like Us broadcasts an ongoing experimental arts radio and podcast show on WFMU, called “DO or DIY”, which, since it began in 2003, has had over a million “listen again” downloads.
Over a million downloads of her
Been working with the archive for a long time
About working with layers of reality
Archives as databases
Shows Golem inanimate matter a piece made for Channel 4
Makes new stories from old; accumulating material on HDD for later use. Keeps lists to help retain information also a kind of map for making work A puppeteer bringing things together Mind maps beyond what one can
Shows The Sound of Music introductory scene with backdrop of war superimposed !?
The internet as an archive!
We Are not Amused for Channel 4
Lot of dreadful work around but at least it can be accessed and is available Sharing ideas Need to be restrictive in own mind to make work
4 to 5 months looking for movies with mirror idea in Resulted in The Mirror
Vicki blends sound into her visuals So incredibly imaginative! Facebook very helpful in research; people ready to offer help! What is nostalgia? Tendency to show one’s conditioning
The Remote Controller from Prellinger archive
Not bothered about copyright, the bogeyman!
I found my interest in Vikki waning towards the end; her work becoming banal
Maja Daniels – Elf Dalia
In 2012 Maja Daniels, photographer and sociologist began working in the Swedish region of Älvdalen inspired by the current generational shift, where negotiations and tensions between modern lifestyles and tradition – including the preservation of a strong cultural identity imbued with mysticism – represent an important contemporary struggle. Through making her own photographs of the region, and creatively appropriating parts of the archive of photographer Tenn Lars Persson (1878 –1938) within her work the community’s unique and mysterious eccentricity is reinforced. Steeped in both reality and myth, past and present, an imaginary tale influenced by language, mystery and local history quietly reveals itself through the resilience of the subjects, the strangeness of the events and the beauty of the land.
Considers herself a storyteller who uses photography Swedish! Has lived in London where she worked as a photographer.
Visited area where language similar to Old Norse Looking at community Used Facebook to help suss place out! Old pagan traditions Looking at landscape imagery of area Living there Found an archive on FB of the area Featured work by particular photographer who engaged in different kinds of photography of the area Was able to access 5000 of these images and made a low res selection (Maja is not-a good speaker though work is interesting; keeps on saying “you know!” Her English not good) Discovering archive of another photographer and unraveling it. Found out more about this photographer and his way of working Photographs of Moon! Her intuitive response to the archive is what mattered Making diptychs from work, selecting and sequencing work also combining images with her own No captions or stories to contextualise work. Shows scenes from pagan rites Working with kids who use the images from the archive to make their own stories The archive took her over; her work a response to the archive! She is doing a book of this work Will it contain relevant text? Yes but not original captions. Do the locals understand what she’s doing and can they relate to it? They have not really seen it but have been helpful. She is not representing them rather creating a story about them although there are histories of the region Their language is dying out with only about 45 adult speakers left. Maja also making films about this region.
Another short break
Beijing Silvermine by Thomas Sauvin
Thomas Sauvin – Beijing Silvermine
Beijing Silvermine is an archive of 500,000 negatives salvaged over the last seven years from a recycling plant on the edge of Beijing. Assembled by the French collector and artist Thomas Sauvin, Beijing Silvermine offers a unique photographic portrait of the Chinese capital and the life of its inhabitants in the decades following the Cultural Revolution. This coherent and unceasingly evolving archive allows us to apprehend negatives in different ways. It constitutes a visual platform for cross-cultural interactions, while impacting on our collective memory of the recent past.
Made by while working for London based Archive of Modern Conflict later albums from flea markets then online Bought negatives by the bagfuls Been working for nine years on this project employing a scanner who scans some 9,000 scans a month Recognisable groups of photographs 1985 to 2005 period during which negatives were used by photographers in China
Lots of photographs of babies and children, people interacting with monuments (Thomas delivers his talk with a dry humour!) such as Buddhas and sharks, women interacting with flowers also man with cactus! Beach photos or by water
After scanning negatives then possible to make prints and exhibitions
Someone recognised her father as one of subjects via Facebook! He got to meet the person whose photograph he had “found”!
Another series of families with TV sets, people with pets, women posing with fridges etc
Many negatives in a bad state “which is probably for the best “ remarks Thomas who is not just interested in showing work but also discussing it!
Produces concertina books! Recycled photographs Book designed around cigarette packets showing custom of smoking at weddings also showing other customs like couple eating a single tomato Better to focus on a subject than a person
Another book an origami construction with photographic prints contained in sections, capsules each telling a story through prints
Website Instagram to share imagery as well as making books Likes to collaborate with other photographers and people working in a similar way such as Kentsuke
www.onthisday.com gives useful info albeit irrelevant captioning for found photos that have a date imprinted on them
Selection process seldom involves censorship
Buys negatives by kilo !
The day ends! It has over run by 45 minutes