Archival work tends to have a lazy undertone. What I notice is most prominent with work that relies on the archive is the failure of the images taken by the photographer to match the incredible nature of the archive. There is a fundamental difference in aesthetic and intention that makes the other images seem inferior. But the archive is always king.
Why is this? It is a strange concept that you can buy or come across an archive and that is considered a photography project. What have you done in the process of buying them and arranging them? This is an incredibly tempting thing to do as we dream of the aesthetic of found imagery. They takes us somewhere so far removed from the reality of now we want to stick around in the photograph a little longer. Reality, when paired together, seems dull, too sharp and too well, real. The balance between reality and the past create a very uncomfortable paradox.
I came across these photographs in a flee market in Fairfax. It was a very unique experience as I had never seen one before. I was just surprised I had even found my way to the country hence why the experience did not feel quite real. One thing I enjoy most is editing and working with pictures and the process of looking through boxes and boxes of photographs took me quite a few hours. I lost my friends in the process, only to meet up later.
What was I intending to use them for? Why did I pay $10 for them? What drew me to the archive?
A friend of mine said when I asked him if I should consider these in a project of mine - 'the issue with using archival images is the fact they always triumph the original photographs in the series' - or something along those lines. This is undeniably true, unless your aesthetic can match them. Either way they demand most of the attention. They would always end up being the memorable pictures. Of course you did not take them and this is where the biggest issue lies. These are not our photographs.
I came across a handful of archive projects when seeing graduate work and the notion of it being acceptable, whilst studying, to hand in photographs from an archive for an educational context worries me slightly. I am all for introducing new and exciting ideas to photographic education, but the logic that if we re appropriate images we are being some form of photographer is concerning. An element of this is true of course and John Stezaker appears to be the only successful candidate so far. Hugely successful might I add.
It really does come down to what you think photography is and how you look the medium.
But what draws us in is the interesting part. I heard a talk with Ken Grant where he was reading out a text he had written for a publication of found images made by a local portrait photographer in the north many years before. He made it all seem so enticing you just wanted to reach out and grab them. The publication came together and made for inspirational viewing but what made it interesting? Was it the writing that made my mind go to a certain place? Was it the beautiful aesthetics they carried? Its hard to work out what it is that makes it intriguing.
Its like the feeling you get when you stumble across your childhood archive when your parents were using dodgy point and shoots an nipping to boots every weekend. The fascination has a lot to do with the process.
The process we now use to make our images, digital, and the output and procedure they take on means we don't need to print anything anymore. The web is king. Our processes have changed but so have our aesthetics. We want the softness of focus on our new born babies face, the incredible purple background and the peculiar flash that makes it seem it was from another time. It is the obsession with the past and the memories we would like to relive. The aesthetic just wraps us up and gives us a cup of tea and reminds us of the child at heart. It is the panic of loosing your years. As time goes faster and faster we are constantly hoping to make the best out of moments we have. When we waste a year, we see our faces age and our bodies slosh around and we wish to be younger. Maybe, just maybe that is what the archive does, not the modern archive but the archive of the past. It stores it all in an impeccable frame and leaves us completely in ore of the idea, not the photograph itself.
To return back to reality a little here, modern archives are not carried out in the same way. Our cameras are different, our printing process has changed and we do not frantically film our children's lives on VHS anymore. Instead they enter the stratosphere of Instagram, Facebook and email attachments. There is no physicality in the modern archive. There is no physical output. Images are merely stored in the cloud instead of dining room drawers. This to me is the biggest worry of all.
I can see that the archive of old leaves us nostalgic because we are a youth carrying the fear of growing old. We want to be remembered and need to achieve. We are always running on the treadmill of life to feel things to remember them when were older. The archive has such a close connection to this sensation.
We need to be remembered otherwise to others we may not have existed.