Statement on Photographic Archives

(Originally published as part of Bryan Formhals, “John Matturri – Venice Archive,” LPV Magazine, 2011

…in the middle of the city should be a repository of objects that people don’t want anymore, which they would take to this giant junkyard. That would form an organization, a way that the city would be organized . . . the city organized around that. I think this center of unused objects and unwanted objects would become a center of intellectual activity. Things would grow up around it. – Jack Smith

Photography has as much in common with finger-pointing as it has with other types of image-making. Each snap of the shutter is a gestural stab towards possible significance — “Hey, this might be worth checking out” – with composition and other formal elements often indicating the nature of that significance in ways unavailable to the bare finger. Such significance comes in many forms, ranging from objects and scenes worthy of a transient glance to those encouraging a more lingering focused attention, from simple observations to the more complex photographs, often at war with the obvious, that we usually most value.

But while photographs do point, they also remove their subjects from the specific contexts in space and time that determine their native significance. Once repositioned as objects apart from their origin in the world, their significance can be re-determined through recontextualization: single prints, books, walled exhibits, portfolios, slideshows, webpages, photostreams and so on all have specific capacities for determining how we look at individual images and how those images interact with each other to form new worlds. Beneath these forms, however, generally lies the more inchoate underlying archive of a photographer’s work, a mostly unseen collection of “fingerpointings, gestures, glances” towards the world that may be catalogued and ordered, almost inevitably somewhat arbitrarily, but which is perhaps best approached through browsed incursions, random walks that allow the transient emergence and dissolution of connections, ideas, reimaginings. Wandering through collections of their work Atget’s objective documents are apt to turn dreamlike, Muybridge’s pseudo-scientific motion studies shift towards psychodrama.

With the emergence of the Internet, with its vast storage capacities, as a primary medium for viewing images the archive comes into its own, retaining its function as a source for more traditional forms of external display, but also as an open-ended form in itself to be freely browsed but also being able to freely accommodate within its boundaries multiple trajectories of glimpsed meaning — sequences, arrangements, videos, essays, whatever – that intersect within its depths.

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