Part 2: The archive and the found image

Summary Notes on Archives, Photographs and Indexicality

Readings and Reflection: Brief notes on Archives, Photographs and Indexicality

The following notes are a synthesis of my reading (so far)


Any archive has a structure and has been built for a specific purpose. This will mean that its contents are filtered to meet that purpose both from the intentions of the archive itself and also the fact that it is not possible to keep everything. Archives hide history, secrets and truth but can be interrogated – or psycho-analysed as Jacques Derrida termed it (bearing in mind he said this in the context of a Conference at the Freud Museum) Derrida, J (1995)– and de-constructed to explore new meanings. Artists can ‘lend speech’ to traces of the past.


Photography is simultaneously the documentary evidence and archival record of an event (Okwui Enwezor 2008) see here also . As such the making of a photograph is a mechanism of time-travel through which we return to the past and also create new meanings. Like other archives photographic archives also only present a version of the ‘truth’ but can be similarly de-constructed to find hidden meanings and produce new work (see H. Foster [2004] and my summary here  and also my writing on the way in which photographers have approached archives here   .

I was taken by Freud’s concept of the Mystic Writing-Pad, (S. Freud 1925) and its similarity to a palimpest in how it leaves a trace of the writing that has been erased.  This widened my thoughts towards the traces left on our skin from our life experiences – scars, wrinkles, tattoos.  Then I considered the photograph as such – the mechanics of its construction,  the way in which ink is layered on the photographic paper and how the photograph as an object in itself is affected by changes through time – changes which can be analysed. I think that Photoshop layers are another way of portraying new narratives; layering different photographs, documents or fragments from different time periods and have experimented with using this strategy.

The concept of an archive depends on a recognized structure, just as a family album usually has a particular structure/order to form a narrative that the maker wishes to portray. There’s anarchy though in an ‘archive’ consisting of fragments, ‘orphan’ photographs and un-dated documents which I think provides even more freedom to make of it what one will. However, when photographs are removed from their original context (including a family album) they become detached from collective memory and are forgotten or might be revealed as images that in their very banality, erase or negate meaning. Thomas Demand made this point about the construction of historical memory and the partiality of photographic vision with his work Room (Zimmer) 1996   when he re-staged a 1944 photograph by Adolf Hitler’s official photographer.

Thomas Demand.Room Zimmer) 1996
Room (Zimmer) (c) Thomas Demand (1996)

Demand created paper tableaux and photographed them to provide an illusion of the ‘real’, attempts to reconstruct an historically grounded, 3D ‘reality’ based only on information contained in media photographs.

However,  a photograph removed from its original context can yield hitherto unnoticed information for example Gillian Rose’s respondents believed their family photos were truthful in showing what somebody really looked like but they could also see truths not seen at the time – such as illness (G. Rose [2010]).

Notes on the indexicality of photography and memory

I’ve much more to read on this so the following are serving as a bookmark.

Regarding the ontology of the photographic image – this enables the subject to elude death because, by its very nature, the image preserves the subject through the act of memory and remembering – the ‘victory of time’ in artificially preserving bodily appearance. (Bazin, A & Gray, H [1960]). Interesting to me because the first sentences link the origin of painting and sculpture with a ‘mummy complex’ and I only recently wrote about photography, memento mori and sacred objects here . This implies an indexical relation between the image and its referent, and a reliance on memory’s capacity to recall such images but it is now frequently emphasized that our memories are faulty (which is problematic given that much of our Criminal Justice system relies on the memory of witnesses).

A photograph might be both evidence and record of an event but this is mediated by the influence of memory, perception/psychological processing of events in the past. For example, with my family photographs I have often either known the person or heard stories about them and so this cannot but influence the way I read these photographs. I don’t think we can escape our psychological/neurological make-up, but we can become more aware of the process and challenge it.  Added to this, memory (whether it is ‘true’, probably true or ‘false’) is the foundation of our sense of identity. If it is challenged, then the individual has to process the effect of cognitive dissonance – deal with new truths or harden current beliefs to retain/renew sense of self.

I also think of imagination in relation to memory, including the process of ‘magical thinking’ that we still retain in some form after childhood, and that allows us to re-shape our perception (and memories). Writers such as Simon Schama (1995) have pointed towards the effect of collective memory in particular places – often connected with sites of tragedies of human nature. In his writings on ‘Aura’ Walter Benjamin also had a view that the events of history, “shrivel up and become absorbed into the site of the event” (1977:179).  These feelings that people experience, how much is that due to imagination I wonder; imagination that allows us to be in that place, here and now, and then, in some fashion, extend our senses into an empathic response to it? In fact, can I even extend this to photographs and Barthes’ ‘punctum’?




Bazin, A & Gray, H (1960) “The Ontology of the Photographic Image” in Film Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 4. (Summer, 1960) pp-4-9 at (Accessed on 26th January 2017)
Benjamin, W (1977) the Origin of German Tragic Drama, Verso Press
Derrida, J. (1995) Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression
Enwezor, O (2008) Archive Fever : Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art, New York, ICP
Foster, H (2004) An Archival Impulse in OCTOBER 110, Fall 2004, pp. 3-22 MIT Press
Freud, S (1925) Note upon the “Mystic Writing Pad” (1925) pp in  Freud, S (1963), General Psychological Theory, Chapter XIII, Macmillan Publishing Company, pp 207-212
Rose, G. (2010) Doing family photography: The domestic, the public and the politics of sentiment. Farnham, England: Ashgate Publishing.
Schama, S. (1995) Landscape and memory. London: HarperCollins Publishers.





Exercise 2.3

My first version of this Exercise was lost/corrupted when my computer froze and I am unable to recover it despite using all the strategies suggested on-line. Therefore,  what follows is a more hurried version as I have to get on with Assignment 2.

Exercise 2.3

Brief: To produce a piece of work that either explores the family album and its iconography or reflects on representations of the self in digital culture.

After playing around with some ideas digitally (see previous post) I chose to produce a series of photographs (photomontage, layers) , using found images, including isome from my own family archives etc which reference the family album in some way. I have only inherited a loose collection of photographs and other documents. Nothing was contained in albums so there is no structure which would guide me as to the narrative that my ancestors’ might have wanted to portray of their lives.  All I can rely on is my own memory of what I was told, together with the small archive.

I was born from steel, the magnet that drew people towards it and threw them together in its crucible; warming them with its promised glow of riches and success. Maybe for some, but not for my maternal grandfather’s family who laboured hard and lived poorly – at least for the most part (see a YouTube video here .) Love is free they say, though, and perhaps more the stronger when it has to be fought for against what others might think.


PDF Version



Material used


Photographs, letters, documents and information downloaded from or obtained through the internet such as Census returns and birth certificates. Below is a contact sheet



I had several aims for this exercise which is partly why I gave myself the latitude of using more than the six images suggested.

  • Put into practice some of the knowledge gained from my readings on archives – their purposes, advantages and pitfalls
  • Become a researcher in my own archive
  • Fill in some gaps and create links between known; guessed, imagine.
  • I knew the story I wished to reveal but wanted to test whether I could achieve this by images alone
  • Gain further practice in sequencing images

I certainly learned more about using an archive – structure/lack of structure, to take account of the way in which it has been organised or built.  How it can be deconstructed and interpreted  to create new meanings/narratives, as with the work I refer to here  Freud’s linkage of the Magic Writing Tablet with palimpest made me think of layers of time which can also be represented through the use of Photoshop layers. Jacques (J. Derrida 1995) suggested that one should psychoanalyse the archive – written about here  and I extended this notion to two aspects. Gillian Rose suggested looking at the family album as a practice (G. Rose 2010) why and how they are kept and the uses made of them.  I know that neither my parents nor my maternal grandmother kept a family album and have wondered why. Was there something within the family that made such a practice more difficult. In the absence of an album to serve as archive I decided to treat each individual photograph as an archive in itself. This brings into play the notion that once a photograph ceases to act as a memento mori ,because there is no longer anyone left alive to remember the person depicted (Joel Meir Wigoder 1998 here), then it can be examined to provide new information as described here   by Nicky Bird in her analysis of a photograph on a pin. I used this to look more closely at the only photograph of my grandfather as a young man that I have.


He is staring into the distance, looking spruce. Could it be a wedding photograph of him? The cloth of his jacket looks heavy and not expensive – more like serge perhaps – but it looks like a silk cravat tucked into his waistcoat. I am seeing someone moving away from the barefoot boy, becoming more determined and moving towards being the man who became a well-respected Trades Union official.

Punctum in R. Barthes Camera Lucida (1993)

I experienced this visceral reaction during one my internet searches. I had been told that my grandfather had no shoes when he was young but this seemed very distant and I had previously not taken too much note of where he was born – Duke Street, Sheffield – but an idle search on this street led me here  For some reason It t really hit home to me that he had been born in such a slum area and could have been one of these children.


I wanted to use a similar presentation to that used by Sophy Rickett and Bettina von Zwehl with Album 31  but decided against this as individual frames make a container around each image whereas I wanted my images free to be linked with each other.  Otherwise Angela Kelly’s work Sundays at Sea  was the strongest influence with its use of layering –  maps, landscape photographs and family photographs .


In the event, I only used layering for the first image but left the other images to speak for themselves. I think the hand-written words I extracted do evoke what was happening at the time. I asked for feedback from one of my Course colleagues and her impression was that the layered image had too many layers and needed to be simplified – perhaps removing one of them. I agree with her and will bear this in mind for the Assignment.  I was surprised how long it took for me to edit those few images into Blurb software but I was thinking carefully about how to re-size each one for sequencing and impact.  I know I have a lot to learn.  Hand-written extracts led me to think that no further text would be needed. I’m still not sure though. If I had added text this would have been to put a date under each image. In fact I had organised the images to allow for a date.

I learned much from this apparently simple exercise which I will take with me into the Assignment, although, I have to admit that I would like to expand on this particular chapter of my background in some subsequent work.


Barthes, R. and Howard, R. (1993) Camera lucida: Reflections on photography. London: Vintage Classics.
Rose, G. (2010) Doing family photography: The domestic, the public and the politics of sentiment. Farnham, England: Ashgate Publishing.





Playing with Ideas

Playing with ideas towards Exercise 2.3 and then Assignment 2 

Having overcome my reluctance to play around with old photographs (well, at least partly) I felt more able to broach Exercise 2.3. The brief for this Exercise is to produce a piece of work that either explores the family album and its iconography or reflects on representations of the self in digital culture.  I decided first to experiment with forms of digital montage techniques to build upon techniques such as those I used in Part One Project 1 here   layering and merging images in different ways.

I had been looking at Alma Haser’s work here . She  is probably most known for her Cosmic Surgery series   and I had been reading how she had experimented with a particular form of origami to transform portraits into paper sculptures, using herself as her own model to begin with. If you link in with her news page you can see what a creative mind she has. I looked at her shop page and noticed that she offers a Fold Your Face Kit for a small price and so I sent for it.

Using a photograph of myself


I then created a grid image in Photoshop and folded as per instructions. After many attempts I produced this


and played around some more.

This was a theme I thought I could develop by placing photographs of me at various ages into the grid – fitting with self-identity and how it evolves over time, also with the concept of the “inner child” . It looks much more 3D-like in the real and so I need to find a way to photograph it more realistically.

Continuing with the theme of identity, I have had my DNA analysed on two occasions. Several years ago I obtained information on my mitochondrial DNA – that which is passed down unchanged by the mother to her children, both male and female, although it can then only be passed down further through the female line. Apparently I descend from Haplogroup H. I recently read an online article written by a photographer who had established how many well-known people belonged to her Haplogroup and then photographed herself as them but, unfortunately, I now can’t find it again.  This took me back to my concept of The Apple Tree and creating a project around the women in my maternal line-vwritten about here . Recent DNA analysis by Ancestry, which I think relates to the last few hundred years –  revealed that I am 73% native to the Great Britain Region whereas a typical person is 60% native. Maybe that explains why I just don’t feel ‘European’ even though I enjoy travelling there.  I had the idea of creating an identity document to show my roots and develop my story from there


The artist Daniela White has created photomontages and 3D structures from family photographs    and one Floating Memories  really appealed to me with its folding and layering of memories .  Thinking about my more remote ancestors and how they might have travelled to this Country, I created a boat from my identity document, and then used the Warp filter in Photoshop to elongate it further.


Obviously, this technique would need much refinement but I do like the idea of more experimentation with creating sculptural objects from photographs.

Turning back to something more traditional, whilst still thinking of ‘inner child’ I created a Gif. The link is below, once the GIF appears click on it again to reduce it.


The Sphinx and Me: History, Memory and Family Photography


What I’m talking about now is a very ancient part of human awareness. It may even be what defines the human – although it [was] largely forgotten in the second half of the 20th century. The dead are not abandoned. They are kept near physically. They are a presence. What you think you’re looking at on that long road to the past is actually beside you where you stand.

(John Berger talking with Philip Maughan for a New Statesman article 11 June 2015 – accessed here)

I was interested in Egypt from being quite small – this strange and exotic place my father wrote to me about. I realise now that he talked mainly in general terms so I only remember the Dead Sea, Bitter Lake and that he saw the Sphinx  the ancient and mysterious monolith that guards some of the pyramids. I remember him talking about Nefertiti and scarab beetles but nothing more specific. Of course, these vague allusions allowed my imagination to get to work and build my own version of it which I was able to test in December 2005 when I went to Egypt for ten days, boarding the aeroplane on the 4th December which was apt because that’s my birthday. My dad was with me there somehow and I was wondering whether he’d been to the places I visited; would have loved to have been able to talk to him about it.

On the way to see the Sphinx our guide pointed out a large Cemetery telling us how people lived there amongst the tombs of their ancestors. This was Cairo’s el-Arafa necropolis known as The City of the Dead, which has existed for 700 years or more. Imagine, living amongst the dead with them as daily companions.

It felt strange to be standing on that high plateau overlooking Cairo, with the Sphinx and pyramids at my back. So much history and the stories about those ancient times gleaned from discoveries; piercing together the fragments of hieroglyphics and the journeys of the pharaohs to the Underworld.. So much time, effort and cost devoted to death and what comes after, whilst continuing the social structures and segregation of the living – Valley of the Kings, Queens, high-born nobles and workers.


I’m connecting up dots here – fragments of history, the old photographs I now have that don’t appear to have been in an album at any point and what they stand for in my own life. I’ve spent considerable time delving into genealogy records, searching for links and made some interesting discoveries. What’s happened is that I’ve felt steeped in this family history for quite some time and, after reflection have reached the conclusion that this is because I am researching what makes me ‘me’, how I got to this place in life, with the particular attitudes and values I have that reflect the social and cultural environment that contributed to my self-concept and sense of identity.

If one follows the view that there is only ‘the here and now’ with history as memory and the future imagined then what is the purpose of history? Why do we revere the monuments of the past and, in some instances, literally worship our ancestors? I’m thinking also of the part that photographs play in all this and wondering how much changing practices of dealing with death have affected the growth of photography. I’m linking this with two aspects. What happened before photography was invented? How did people ‘remember’ their history and deceased loved ones. Presumably through objects left behind, letters , paintings and oral memories passed down (and transmuted over time I imagine), although, of course, this would vary according to factors such as wealth and literacy. There was also the journey to the graveside of the loved one and ‘being with’ them for a time – remembering them. Whenever I travel back to Sheffield (which isn’t so often nowadays) I always visit the cemetery and ‘tell’ the family news, so that the grave-site itself becomes a container for memories, stories from the past, and I know where to find them as it were.


However, cremations are more prevalent now, for various reasons, so this ‘container’ for the past no longer exists. Have photographs, perhaps, taken their place – particularly printed photographs, physical objects that can be held, gazed at. I know that photographs are two-dimensional but the structure of our brains somehow enables us to embody them. I intend to write more on this in a further essay, but, certainly when writing about her research into family photography Gillian Rose commented that there were moments in interviews when the photograph was addressed or described as if it was the person it showed, “This is …….” and interviewees giving examples of having photos of parents on the bedside table and feeling uncomfortable (G. Rose, 2010:30).

Reflecting now, I think that I have become so immersed in my old photographs that the people in them have become ‘alive’ to me and this might be one of the reasons why I have been working through this part of the Module so slowly and felt reluctant to disturb the photographs by using processes such as cutting, tearing, slicing to de-construct and re-construct them into a narrative. I have experimented with layers etc (examples in a later post) and took some of these photographs to the work review session during the OCA Brighton Study Visit in October last year. I explained some of the difficulties I was experiencing and how I had wondered whether I should work with other photographs instead. However, I was encouraged by the presiding tutor to continue with work that I felt was meaningful to me and remember saying to him afterwards “I just have to stop treating these photographs as sacred objects”.

At times I’ve thought I was procrastinating in my OCA studies but have realised that, in effect, I’ve been enacting my reading and experiencing what’s actually involved in utilising archives whilst gaining further understanding of family photography as a practice. I have more thinking to do so this post is just a step along the way.


Rose, G. (2010) Doing family photography: The domestic, the public and the politics of sentiment. Farnham, England: Ashgate Publishing.




The other day I read about a 17th Century map found shoved up a chimney in North East Scotland. It was in a ball shape and had perhaps been stuffed in the chimney to stop draughts coming down. The heap of dusty fragments was painstakingly re-constructed and conserved at the National Library of Scotland – each delicate piece heap by heap. There’s more here  on page 15and I watched a video about it here during which the point was also made that all maps are fiction and decisions have to be made as to what gets put in and what left out, which pretty much seems to me like a family album.

We’ve never had a tradition of family albums in my family so I just inherited more old photographs and letters to add to ones I already had. I know who the people are in most of them. I even know about them from stories told me, but how much truth did these stories hold? There are facts and there is truth and the two don’t necessarily coincide. People tell stories in the belief that they are true and I still hold to the belief that there is truth to be found. The same can be applied to photographs and documents – are they indexical, how far do they represent reality?

Museums and other archive collections are now paying much more attention to family archives of ordinary people. During my own research I have, for example, accessed the Sheffield City Council Archives  and also archives concerned with experiences during World War Two. I have my own memories of that time – not many because I was very small then. And so I circle round and round following the labyrinth of history – my history as experienced and told to me by those who knew me then and also their histories of my most recent ancestors as told to me. I have become a living archive. As I write this I’m imagining myself as something similar to the goddess Kali with many arms and hands holding those photographs and letters that date back up to a hundred years ago. Not long in the general scheme of things but a part of the ground that supports my sense of identity, my perception of my place in the World.

In my mind I had a vast archive but have realised that that’s because I had also attached all the stories about my grandparents and great grandparents and built myself the equivalent of sitting by the fireside with them. Around fifteen years ago I decided to research my family background and build a family tree to add to this memory bank I was now conserving. I accessed census, birth, death information etc via but soon got stuck. I discovered that one paternal great-grandfather was born in Huntingdon Workhouse – father unknown – and his mother subsequently married a young man by the surname of Chattell. Was he really the biological father but his family had disapproved of the liaison – hence the Workhouse? The couple moved North to Sheffield – added to the family – identities changed. Chattell became Chattle – the identity of the first child changed from step-son to son and his surname from Wesley to Chattle. I had spent most of my life believing I was a Chattle and now it seemed I might not be at all. I can’t say I was shocked because it didn’t really matter (I’ve had the surname Banks for much longer than I had the previous one) although I was curious.

The maternal side was even more puzzling. There is no father’s name listed on my grandfather’s birth certificate. The story was that his mother had been married to a Mr Davison, had several children with him and then went off with another man and had several more children. My grandfather’s next brother in age emigrated to Canada as an adult, changing his name to Noble because he said that was what their surname should be. I’ve spent considerable time recently back researching on the internet so there’s more, but I wouldn’t want to bore my readers. Does giving oneself a different name change self-concept? I changed my name when I got married – it was the tradition then and it took me quite some time to get used to that, but that went alongside taking on a different role – that of being ‘a wife’, with the role of ‘mother’ soon to be added. ‘Naming’ can often be quite a profound process. I do keep thinking of Fontcuberta and his chapter on “Fugitive Identities” – ‘fragmented identities in motion …. Like a flowing ever on, never staying in one place’ (2014:92). The digital world does enable people to take on other identities, changing avatars, but how different is that really from the past – it’s the same process but developed in a different way.

I’ve referred to Census information etc but how far can that be relied upon to reveal truth and what can these old photographs of mine really tell me?


I’m sifting through the old documents, trying to piece them together to make them speak to me, but I’m thinking I might end up creating a new map instead of re-constructing an old one. I’ll add more notes on archives and family photographs later.



Fontcuberta, J (2014) Pandora’s Camera, UK, Mack


Project 3 : Notes on Suggested Reading


The photo album as an archive for significant events and people. With the migration from the physical album to the digital archive we are more likely to view photographs on a smartphone than an album page. However, images are often viewed fleetingly via swiping on a screen – e.g. Snapchat and  its 10 second showing. We look, consume, move on.

Kessels installation of  photographs uploaded to Flickr within 24 hours is referred to as here and I wrote about this after seeing it at the Arles Festival here . In this Phaeton article here he makes an interesting point regarding the paradox that everything is moving towards perfection in digital photography, “Yet we have these applications on our phones to fuck up our photographs, to make them look overexposed or with flares on them”. I hadn’t looked at it that way before.

The emergence of the ‘selfie’

Kessels installation images look as if ripped from family album, but they are from a day on Flickr. With the use of the camera phone there has been a rise in the popularity of self-portrait to introduce oneself to others – aided by the front camera so you can see your pose. this creates a whole new set of dilemmas – what type of self-portrait to pose, how should I look etc. A quote from Fontcuberta, I Photograph Therefore I Am – (2014 p.17) reminding us how far back the ambassadorial use of portraits as a form of introduction goes in arranging noble marriages.

Inserting self into pictures in unusual ways – Irish artist Trish Morrissey (staging herself and her sister in ‘tightly controlled fictional mise en scene based on the conventions of family snapshots” and Dutch photographer Hans Eljkelboom, who rang the doorbell in the afternoon whilst the husband/father of the house was away at work. If the wife and children were in, he photographed himself between them as the father of the house. He also set himself the task of being a bystander in images appearing in the same newspaper. Erik Kessels reviewed Eljkelboom’s work here

Vibeke Tandberg

 Manipulated self-portraits/representations through photomontage and collage works of photography and film, examining issues around identity, the dislocation of the subjects and the interrogation. the video is slow-moving. Eyes flowing as tears fading into Skull behind the face. Young person growing from tree. Woman peering down at pile of film flowing from her eyes. 3.36 painted snake (slowly becoming darker) , with face underneath. Triptych – Contact sheet between two portraits, turns into pieces of a naked woman masturbating. Overlaid and then taken over by a girl with sewn up lips and no nose. Crossed/rubbed out by wire or something similar that looks like scribbles. A hanging light then becomes predominant. The triptych darkens so only the light is seen.

Joan Fontcuberta (2014) Fugitive Identities

At the beginning of this chapter in his book Pandora’s Camera  Fontcuberta looks at motivations for and responses to political graffiti in both Europe (slogans on the walls of the Sorbonne in May 1968) and America. “To establish power and to narrow minds, raffiti was not a form of protest but a criminal activity that had to be stamped out” (2012:92) whereas the thrill and risk of it acted as a rite of passage; marking of territory: definition of areas of influence and statements of identity – “fragmented identities in motion …. Like a flowing ever on, never staying in one place.” Continuing with this theme, Fontcuberta then considers artists who have looked at identity and how it might fluctuate for the same person according to place/space.

Isabelle Eshragi  portrayed how she changes “identity” on her journeys between Paris and Tehran. In her series Reservate Sinje Dillenkofer  photographed senior female executives dressed for work then invited them, in their own home, to stage and enact some secret fantasy. Fontcuberta proposes Annie Sprinkle, an ex Porn star, as a post-feminist who encourages women to take on males where they are most vulnerable – in their desire. With The Transformation Salon Sprinkle took advantage of a commission to produce portrait photographs of participants in an amateur striptease contest. She used a Polaroid camera to take deliberately rough before photographs to show the two realities of everyday life and the world of desire that can be bought. Exaggerating to make a point – well, that’s one way I suppose. Her website is an eye-opener so I’m choosing not to include a link here.

Fontcuberta then looks at photographers who have used digital techniques to such as cloning and layers to examine the notion of identity. Vibeke Tandberg (referred to above) produced Living Together   an album of memories of a non-existent family. She produced a series of snapshots of two young sisters – identical, but too identical – raising the question of which one was real and which a double and adding a “diffuse fear that perhaps we can no longer distinguish between appearance and reality, reality and simulacrum, or original and reproduction” (2012:96). Fontcuberta also refers to Wendy McMurdo’s work around this topic. In 1995 McMurdo produced In A Shaded Place  where ‘Doppelgangers were created through the use of multiple images to arouse a sense of the ‘uncanny’ in the viewer and there is a very interesting article here  where she discusses this with artist Sheila Lawson. I’m finding it interesting that, on the one hand, we humans might have these fears pointed towards by Fontcuberta and yet, on the other hand, on many occasions we have the desire to dress like other people; behave in similar ways, so as to belong conform to a notion of group identity as opposed to individual identity. Paul Smith explored what is ‘masculinity’ and his desire to join the Army in his degree project Artists Rifles  . There are further examples – Dalia Chauveau’s cloning agency that produces virtual clones to order (after several searches I cannot find this on the Web), and, in fiction, Stanislaw Lem and “The Star Diaries” voyages of an astronaut who, on his thirteenth journey  ends up on a planet where the inhabitants all have exactly the same face. The story is here on YouTube if you wish to listen.

Fontcuberta touches more upon new digital technologies at the end of the chapter and how this touches upon all aspects of abstract construction of reality and this is something I will return to later in the Module whilst retaining the notion of ‘Windows’ and how many can be kept open at any one time – “The life practice of Windows is that of a decentered self that exists in many worlds, that plays many roles at the same time” (2012:102)


 Fontcuberta, J. (2014)’ Fugitive Identities’ In Fontcuberta, J. Pandora’s Camera, UK, Mack pp. 91-103.

Part 2, Project 2 : Exercise 2.2

Write 500 words on a piece of work by one contemporary artist-photographer who uses the archive as a source material.

I have already written about several such artists but wanted to write about some work with which I felt a more personal connection.

Kern Baby : Faye Claridge (2015)

In the introduction to her website Faye Claridge   refers to her ‘fascination with representation and belonging in a country obsessed with (constantly reworked) history’ and how she explores the way in which ‘identity’ is shaped by ideas about the past. I share her view on the importance of, “.. understanding ideas of ‘Englishness’ based on social equality, inclusion, diversity and internationalism”. I am interested in the way she enters into collaboration with others, often young people, to explore these issues, and how she uses, performance, film and photography to to create contemporary work.

I was introduced to her work during my research into GRAIN   and their collaboration with the Library of Birmingham. Claridge was commissioned by GRAIN, initially through a turning Point West Midlands Residency, and worked extensively with the Library’s  Sir Benjamin Stone Collection. I clicked on to GRAIN’s website and immediately felt a personal connection when I saw this.


(C) Faye Claridge (2015)










A huge doll, mannequin? For a brief instant I was reminded of Royal de Luxe and the Little Girl Giant, but this “Kern Baby” was something more, with deeper roots. Claridge was inspired by Stone’s own photograph of a Kern Baby in Whalton, Northumberland, from his album of unusual festivals and customs taken as he travelled around the country

The Harvest Home “Kerr Baby” of 1901. Whalton, Northumberland. 1902. The Benjamin Stone Collection

The Harvest Home “Kerr Baby” of 1901. Whalton, Northumberland. 1902.
The Benjamin Stone Collection











(Downloaded with the permission of the Curator’s department, The Library of Birmingham )

They both stand proud in the landscape. Stone’s Kern Baby standing out from her backdrop of greenery through her pale dress, whereas Claridge’s Kern Baby dominates the landscape. Both continue the old tradition of corn dolls, practised in many countries in different ways, from pagan times – shapes fashioned from the last sheaf of wheat or other crop and celebrating the harvest – some small and some very large. Faye Claridge’s sculpture was created as a result of a commission from Compton Verney  , with the photograph being exhibited at the Library of Birmingham in an Exhibition in  during 2016.

Here is a video showing how Faye Claridge then brought Kern Baby back to Wharton,Northumberland, so completing the circle from Benjamin Stone’s photograph in 1901, and also her regrets that the tradition is no longer continued there.

There is another series of photographs A Child for Sacrifice   and a Blurb book  resulting from a collaboration with young people to re-interpret customs using artefacts from the Marton Museum of Country Bygones








© Faye Claridge 2015

There is a mix of black and white and colour (referencing Stone’s interest in different processes) with a feel of a traditional event brought into present day through this artistic collaboration.

May-day festivities, Knutsford, Cheshire. Crowning May Queen (Miss Julia Wragg). (Master James Norbury, Crownbearer). 1902. The Benjamin Stone Collection

May-day festivities, Knutsford, Cheshire. Crowning May Queen (Miss Julia Wragg). (Master James Norbury, Crownbearer). 1902.
The Benjamin Stone Collection










Thanks again to Faye Claridge and the Library of Birmingham for agreeing to my use of the images.

Personal Connections

I have always been interested in traditional folk tales and present day traditions/events that hearken back to much earlier practices.  In fact I’ve often wondered how much people know of their origins. When I was comparing Sir Benjamin Stone’s images with Faye Claridge’s work.  I was taken back to May Day events when I was in school, dancing around the Maypole as well as the other performances such as being principal boy in “Coppelia” and playing Minuet in G on the piano whilst dressed in a paper crinoline (which I afterwards inadvertently stepped through and tore). Looking at Stone’s archive also linked with some of the photographs in two albums I purchased from eBay which contain photographs taken at my school in the 1940s and early 1950s. Sadly I don’t appear there though

Presumably taken by one of the teachers, and with the last one hand-painted.

Looking at the three sets of images made me think  about the differences between the vernacular – a teacher (perhaps) recording an event where teachers and children had worked together to produce a ‘performance’ and the artistic – an early, gifted amateur photographer recording an event as he travelled around the country and a contemporary artist creating sculpture and performance events, with collaboration from youngsters, and recording the results. I also thought of the way in which children’s school performances can now be subject to restrictions (e.g. Nativity Plays are sometimes regarded as politically incorrect due to the mix of cultures in a school) so new performances/events need to be created that represent present-day culture. I am also questioning ‘identity’ and how its formation is linked with nurture, environs and cultural/social history and tradition particularly against the background of current political events, but that’s a much wider topic than I can address here.




GRAIN Arts Organisation and Responses to Archives

GRAIN is an independent arts organisation based in the West Midlands that collaborates with national and international partners to support/grow opportunities for artists, photographers and curators. GRAIN commissions  new work , offers residencies  with the Library of Birmingham and other partners and collaborates in research projects such as Photography and the Archive  which was site-specific and responsive to material housed in the Library of Birmingham Photography Collection. Participants in Photography and the archive took Bournville Village as a starting point and catalyst for new work exploring the application of Documentary Photography in relationship to the archive. I spent a few years living in Birmingham not far from Bournville Village and the mention of it brought back the smell of chocolate that often used to waft over our estate.

I enjoyed exploring the varied projects and artists involved but will confine myself to mention of just a few of them before writing in more detail on one in particular for Exercise 2.2.

Sophy Rickett & Bettina von Zwehl :Album 31

In 2012  Photographers Sophy Rickett and Bettina von Zwehl were commissioned by GRAIN to respond to the photographic collection of Sir Benjamin Stone   which is housed in Birmingham Library. Sir Benjamin Stone  (1838-1914) was a Birmingham industrialist and politician.  He was also a skilled amateur photographer and collector of photographs. He recorded the sights and personalities of the Palace of Westminster and “made it his business to photograph every MP, servants of the Houses of Parliament and many of those who visited” Some of which are held at the National Portrait Gallery In 1897 he announced the formation of the National Photographic Record Association (BPRA) whose aim was,  ‘to record the ancient buildings, folk customs and other ‘survivals’ of historical interest for the future’  and create a national memory bank. The NPRA deposited 5883 photographs at the British Museum between 1897 and 1910, of which 1532 were by  Sir Benjamin, and all these photographs were eventually transferred to the V&A.

The Collection in the Library of Birmingham was presented to the Library by  his trustees in 1921. Stone amassed 50 albums of photographs, classified to reflect his interests, but Sophy Rickett and Bettina von Zwehl concentrated on Album 31 (labelled “Sundry Photographs”) which contained photographs Stone wanted to keep but that didn’t fit into any of his other albums. Rickett and von Zwehl produced a new series of album pages (10) using motifs they had identified as characteristic of Stone’s own album, such as oval frames around images within pages.  The source imagery came from their own archives – outboxes and abandoned projects that had not previously ‘seen the light of day’. They combined colour and black and white as Stone had been interested in the permanence of different print processes.  The collaboration produced some beautiful pages, re-contextualising the artists’ own images and including extracts of text which was a mix of personal reflections and diary entries.  the new album pages were exhibited at the Library in 2015 and there is a review here by Oliver McCall (31 August 2015) and information on the Grain site here. I felt quite entranced by the pages I’ve been able to access which, to me, have a delicacy and translucency about them which mirrors the pages of Stone’s album whilst presenting different and contemporary work.

Broomberg & Chanarin : Spirit is a Bone

These photographers explored the Library archives over a period of two years, making connections with these, their own work and their own concerns.  They drew attention to both access to and the structure of the archive and certainly connected with the Sir Benjamin Stone Collection and Stone’s need to document, collect, control and own. This included his Album no. 50 “Types and Races of Mankind” that ‘includes what might be called non-consensual images”.

From Broomberg & Chanarin’s  website   you can download a PDF of a conversation between themselves and Eval Weizman,  that also includes photographs taken by Sir Benjamin Stone (amongst others). They explain to Weizman that they encountered an impasse when they began to engage with the Library archives. Material is stored in hermetically sealed vaults and controlled by air-conditioning apparatus that sucks out oxygen and replicates high altitude conditions. Staff must undergo medical clearance before being allowed to enter as extended exposure can cause shortness of breath and dizziness. As members of the public Broomberg & Chanarin werere unable to roam freely because of these restrictions so, ‘…. Were reliant on the knowledge, memory and catalogues built up by generations of staff to access material …. It always seems to come down to a question of access: who is controlling the archive, who is compiling it and using it, and to what ends’.

They refer to Sekula’s essay on the archive and its connection

……. with the operations of power that regulate the social body, placing the development of photography in the context of the emergence of policing and technologies of surveillance …. It’s difficult to extricate the final result of these archives from the intentions of their maker or makers; yet their very preservation leaves them subject for constant revision. These collections, far from being inert documents tucked away in dusty boxes in forgotten rooms, harbour an insidious power. In some ways we’re still facing the same impasse we felt when we began this project – there’s a loaded sense of responsibility in the use and creation of archives such as this, and there’s a sense that it’s unstable ground; that it could backfire.

Weizman reflects during the discussion that, as a tool, it can be used in many ways and so is out of control of its makers and can be used against the people that made it, ‘… different questions can always be posed and those questions will be different at every historical conjecture, with a different political constellation around that question. Once a photograph has been used in a particular way, and returned to the archive it has the potential to be read again, ‘its potential will always be in excess of the particular history that produced it.

The title of the work is a quote from Hegel’s essay the Phenomenology of the Spirit” where he contrast physiognomy with the science of phrenology (cf Sekula again). As I would have expected from looking at their previous work Broomberg & Chanarin subvert and challenge the archive. They obviously accessed material from it because they’re utilising it although perhaps they requested for it to be brought from those ‘protected’ vaults. Additionally, as a response to the archive (and referencing Sir Benjamin Stone) they went on to use a potentially oppressive recognition system for their work Spirit is a Bone. They created a series of portraits- a taxonomy of portraits in contemporary Russia – using a facial recognition system machine developed in Moscow for public security and border control surveillance.  The results resemble a digital life mask – a 3D facsimile that can be rotated and scrutinised and the low resolution and fragmented portraits are presented according to profession.

Interim thoughts

As mentioned at the beginning, I spent some time delving into GRAIN’s projects, particularly those responding to archives. I felt inspired by the many different ways in which the artists produced new work – work that connected in some way, whether by design, structure or content, and yet was completely fresh. I think the two projects I’ve written about here relate to re-contextualisation, subversion and de-construction of archives. Bloomberg & Chagrin particularly point to the way in which the structure of archives can both protect and deflect access. In my next post on the connected exercise I’ll look at another function of archives.









5. Okwui Enwezor writing on the archive Fever Exhibition 2008

Okwui Enwezor is a Nigerian curator, art critic, writer, poet and educator, specializing in art history, living in New York City and Munich (where he is the director of the Haus der Kunst non-collecting art museum). The paper provided to read is the introduction in the catalogue of  an exhibition Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art   which he organized at the International Center of Photography (ICP) New York in May 2008.

This Exhibition presented works by contemporary artists (from the 1960s to the then present) who were using photographic images to ‘to rethink the meaning of identity, history, memory, and loss and, in doing so, utilising the concept of the archival influence as a means of structuring the meaning of images and the way we look at history. The Exhibition explored the ways in which artists ‘appropriated, interpreted, reconfigured and  interrogated archival structures and materials’, thus subverting the intention and structure of specific archives – albeit being invited to do so.  The site link provides access to a PDF of the media release which gives a useful overview of the aims and content of the Exhibition and I have also a full set of notes from my reading of the Enwezor’s essay.

What follows is my summary of what struck me as points to consider. My further thoughts are included in italics.

 Photography and the Archive

  • Photography is simultaneously the documentary evidence and the archival record of such transactions – Because the camera is literally an archiving machine, every photograph, every film is a priori an archival object. (p.12)
  • The making of a photograph is part of a construction of aide-memoires …. A mechanism of time travel through which we return to the past, compiling indexes of comparisons and tables of facts that generate their own public and private meanings (p.13)
  • As everyday users become distributors of archival content across an unregulated field of image sharing …. The photograph becomes the sovereign analogue of identity, memory, and history, joining past and present, virtual and real, thus giving the photographic document the aura of an anthropological artefact and the authority of a social instrument. I look at the photographs in my archive and, in remembering and recollecting, re-create different versions of my history
  • Beyond the realm of the snapshot is another empire … connected to a more regulative, bureaucratic, institutional order that invigilates and exercises control over bodies and identities. This links with Allan Sekula’ essay, e.g. Bertillon’s ‘criminals’ and Francis Galton’s ‘the racially inferior’.

Archive as Form


  • Marcel Duchamp and his “La boite-en-valise (1935-41) “not only a sly critique of the museum as institution and the artwork as artefact, it is fundamentally also about form and concept” (p.14). I didn’t know about this art form of a museum in a suitcase when I put my own photographs into boxes. It just seemed a natural thing to do. An example of the way in which artists structure artistic thinking.
  • Gerhard Richter and “Atlas”(1964-present) . Enwezor refers to Lynne Cooke’s view that this ‘collection’, arranged on loose sheets of paper, “… hovers between the promise of taxonomic order as divulged in the archive and the total devastation of that promise…” (p.19)In respect of the ‘archival impulse’  as identified by Hal Foster, artists interrogate the claims of the archive by reading it against the grain .
  • The concept of ‘archive’ depends on an innate (recognized?) structure If every archive is organised in a similar way, following particular rules then it is accessible by those who know the rules. There’s anarchy though in an ‘archive’ consisting of fragments, individual photographs and documents in no particular order.  There is a freedom in that though to make of it what you will, to de-construct received wisdom and look at it another way. I’m thinking here of GRAIN’s collaboration with Birmingham City Library Archives for instance or of Walker Evans “taking back” his images from the FAS archives.

Intelligence Failure/Archival Disappointment

  • Enwezor gives several examples here – one is how the principles of espionage were used in the British Empire’s search for knowledge and the mapping of unknown territory in Tibet. This to be conducted by ‘native explorers’ who were actually a network of Hindu pundit spies from the Indian Himalayas. Enwezor refers to Peter Hopkirk’s’s tracing of this story and how the survey may equal Google Maps for its pinpoint precision.
  • Mention of Google Maps – reminds me of how this has been used to discover that which is hidden/secret, e.g. the work of Mischa Henner, and how Google Earth suppresses some of its aspects ‘in the interest of national security’. I’m not going to write about Iraq and the WMD because it’ll make me feel to angry.

Documents into Monuments: Archives as Meditations on Time

  • How artists may undertake to “memorize’ the monuments of the past, transform them into ‘documents’ and so ‘lend speech to those traces which, in themselves, are often not verbal, or which say in silence something other than what they actually say’. For example, in the late 1970s Craigie Horsefield travelled in pre-Solidarity Polance with a large format camera and “worked as if he were bearing witness to the slow declension of an era, along with a whole category of people soon to be swept away by the forces of change” (p. 24). The captions indicate the date of the making of the photograph next to the year of its full realization as a work, “in doing so he calls our attention to the importance of archival time in the consideration of the image”. Here the time of making functions as a shadow archive next to the flat panel of the large-scale print. There is further information here .
  • I have previously referred to Walid Raad and his fictional Collective “The Atlas Group”  whose aim is to research and document Lebanon’s contemporary history.  The collection brings together both ‘found’  and and invented ‘documents’ of everyday life in Lebanon.Included are ‘documents’ from the estate of a fictional Lebanese historian, Dr Fadl Fakbouri who took a photograph in Beiurut everytime he thought the civil was was over. This includes a film that “….. testifies to the lasting hope for peace and normality and the will to capture these hopeful moments in pictures, in the awareness of their transience”
  • A more recent example is the work of photographer Keith Roberts who developed a response to commercial photographic portraits, shot in Liverpool by the photographer Edward Chambre Hardman between 1923 and 1963. The Collection is held at Liverpool Central Library  . There is a video on the OCA site here where Keith discusses this work – for those who can access it 

Archive and Public Memory

  • This concerns interrogation of the photographic archive, “as a historical site that exists between evidence and document, public memory and private history” eg Andy Warhol’s grids of images taken from media reports  and Hans-Peter Feldmann’s project “9/12 Front Page (2001) ” a collection of material from different media sources concerning one momentous event “implicitly asks the viewer whether it can be treated as a work of art or merely a kind of public testimony.” (p.30)


I have only referred to a few of the artists included in the Exhibition, all of whom are fascinating and I became very absorbed in their work, some of which I may come back to later in Part 2.









4. Hal Foster (2004) “An Archival Impulse”

A brief note on the archive as a theme in contemporary art and an essay that I found useful reading in thinking around uses of Archives in artistic practice and how archives can provide inspiration for new work.

The art historian Hal Foster wrote an Essay in 2004 An Archival Impulse   considering  an practice he described as ‘an idiosyncratic probing into particular figures, objects, and events in modern art, philosophy and history’  (2004:03).  He described this as hardly new being active in both pre and post-war (WWII) and with a distinct character that could be considered a tendency in its own rightl How does it manifest? According to Foster

  • Archival artists seek to make historical information, often lost or displaced, physically present
  • They elaborate on the found image, object, and text
  • They favour the installation format to do so, frequently using its non-hierarchical spatiality to advantage.
  • They use familiar sources, drawn from the archives of mass culture, to ensure a legibility that can then be disturbed or detourné;, but they can be obscure, retrieved in a gesture of alternative knowledge or counter-memory.

In considering ‘obscure’ sources Foster notes that some of these archival samplings pushed postmodernist ‘complications’ of originality and authorship to an extreme and can be concerned more with an “anarchival impulse” – being drawn to obscure traces, ‘unfulfilled beginnings or incomplete projects’ that might offer points of departure again.

He also considers this work ‘archival’ as it not only draws on informal archives but produces them as well and in a way that ‘underscores the nature of all archival materials as found yet constructed, factual yet fictive, public yet private. This type of art also often uses a ‘quasi-archival’ logic to arrange materials and presents them in a similar architecture (Erik Kessel’s sculpture of photo albums in Arles comes very much to mind here as does Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence and Joan Fontcuberta’s exhibition of curiosities.)

Foster comments that archival art is rarely cynical in its intent, but wanting to engage the viewer and he provides interesting examples, including the work of Thomas Hirschhorn    (one of whose pieces was inspired by the spontaneous shrine produced at the spot in Paris where Princess Diana died) and Tacita Dean who based one of her short films Girl Stowaway (1994)  on a single photograph – of an Australian girl who, in 1928 stowed away on a ship bound for England. That one photograph set Dean off on her own journey through time, place and history and is mentioned here in an interview with Simon Schama. Foster writes of Dean “In a sense her archival work is an allegory of archival work – as sometimes melancholic, often vertiginous, always incomplete” (2004:12) and I find this idea so appealing.

Returning to archival art and forming new connections with archival material, Foster views this as not only a will to collate traces of the past to see what might remain for the present but also an assumption that new orders of affective association may be proposed from working through anomic fragmentation[i].  He does acknowledge that sometimes this will to connect can’ betray a hint of paranoia’, projecting meaning where there may be none, that perhaps archival art may emerge from some sense of a failure of cultural memory.  Having written thought I suddenly thought again of Erik Kessels and the photo albums – private archives disposed of as no longer important. However, at the end of the essay (2004:22) Foster speculates that  perhaps this paranoid dimension is the other side of its utopian ambition, a desire  – ‘to transform the no-place of the archive into the no-place of a utopia’.

I had another thought about this impulse towards ‘obscure’ sources, that perhaps this is connected with our urge to complete in terms of the Gestalt process – to join that which is apparently unconnected and create a whole – in this case, something creative and new.



[i] I think this process is evoked very well in a Tate paper discussing the role of the archive in artistic process through the work of Lucy Gunning  – the Archive, The Event and its Architecture.



Foster, H (2004) An Archival Impulse in OCTOBER 110, Fall 2004, pp. 3-22 MIT Press

(Accessed 11 October 2016)