Authors, François Brunet
15.01.–28.02.2014
5. Archives forever (On History, Two)

Our recent discussions on this blog have set me thinking about the notion of archives in photography. My personal and professional concern is primarily with historical uses of photographic and other archives, but I want to consider these uses from the vantage point of today, i.e. the vocabulary and the concerns of the digital era, which is characterized by perhaps unprecedented “archive fever” (Derrida, as quoted recently by Nils Plath on this blog) or archive fervor, but also by deep ambiguities and problems in the very notion of “archive/s.” more

Published: 28.02.2014
16 comments
4. Trove Found at Naval Yard (On History, One)

This week, as happens every so often, a post on the PhotoHistory list forwarded a press article relating the discovery of a “trove” of forgotten photographs — in this case, a collection of 150 glass slides showing scenes from the Spanish American War of 1898, “discovered” in Navy archives in Washington D.C. The article in the Mail Online is entitled “Ghosts of a forgotten war: Naval archivists discover trove of never before seen photographs from Spanish-American conflict of 1898”. Opening with a close-up shot of archivist David Colamaria as he is gazing at a glass slide of the Spanish Admiral, titled “Incredible find,” the article begins: “Archivists at the Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington DC were going through a backlog of artifacts this week when they came across an unexpected treasure … ‘The plates were individually wrapped in tissue paper and include full captions and dates…,’ said Lisa Crunk, NHHC's photo archives branch head.” The description of the container follows, with the mention of a title and attribution (“etched on the cover”) to Douglas White, “war correspondent.” more

Published: 17.02.2014
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3. Meet Billy the Kid (On Portraiture, Two)

In my previous post I raised the question, “why is it that commercial portraiture, which in the 19th century and into the 20th made up an overwhelming majority of all photographs taken, has received comparatively so little attention in the more established histories of photography?” Maybe the “What if God Was One of Us” video, with its weirdly mixed “message,” does not go far enough to answer this question, except to suggest, subliminally or subconsciously, that commercial portraiture is a game of masks, or fools, and an outdated one at that, perhaps even only appealing today to ethnic minorities and punk heads.

One simple answer is that in most portraits encountered in old albums or today in picture-sharing facilities, there is generally nothing to like or to learn—except perhaps numbers, formats, archival procedures—unless the viewer is related to the subject and in a position to reconstruct stories involving the image. Portraits are usually private. Their merits—the knowledge and care that pertain to them, the aspirations of the sitters through their representations—are private, and often ephemeral; memories attached to them fade fast. In portraits, then, there is nothing to learn or to like, unless some significant context or discourse can be recovered or imagined about them. more

Published: 04.02.2014
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2. “What if God Was One of Us?” (On portraiture, One)

My daughter, 14, had a school assignment about finding and analyzing a song “with a message.” She is very musical, and good in school, but she sometimes seeks our advice. After discussing the notion of “with a message” and searching for possible songs (Dylan, Springsteen, Leforestier, etc.) we thought about a more recent song that she liked quite a bit, “One of Us” or “What if God Was One of Us?” I had heard it sung first by Sheryl Crow but the song, written by Eric Bazilian, was recorded originally by Joan Osborne. The “message,” contained in the title, becomes very explicit in the chorus: “What if God was one of us / Just a slob like one of us / Just a stranger on the bus”. This is not necessarily a religious song, I mean a proselytizing song (Brazilian is quoted saying that he wrote that song in one night “to impress a girl”), but it does talk about faith. more

Published: 24.01.2014
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1. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose?

Happy new year everyone on “still searching”.

This is my first real attempt at writing a blog, and I want to thank the Fotomuseum Winterthur for inviting me. I have to beg readers to bear with me while I adjust my academic style to something more conversational, hoping indeed to continue the lively conversation on “Still Searching”. I say continue, because even though I mostly want to concentrate on history — how do we, how should we, write histories of photography today, in 2014? — I would like to interact with previous bloggers here, especially Marvin Heiferman’s very suggestive comments and questions in the previous series.

One big question is about the continuing sense that we are witnessing an “explosion” of images, linked with the digital revolution. Marvin commented on this in his post on “The River”.  This is obvious, and yet it is something troubling, historically, because we have a very large record of previous expressions of the same sense — descriptions and interrogations about “a flood of pictures”, since at least the 1850s. more

Published: 14.01.2014
13 comments