Saturday, 30 March 2013

An archiving p.s.

Following on from my last post, it was interesting to read this month's BJP...  Check out the report by Gemma Padley on p. 79 - 81.

She explains how 'Two industry professionals, Graham Diprose and Mike Seaborne, have come up with a method for storing digital images that they hope will become a legitimate alternative to existing digital storage options [...] their approach involves "selecting and sending our most vital digital photographs and documents forward into the 23rd century as inkjet print 'artefacts' rather than as digital data".'

The idea is that in the future 'these images can be reproduced, enlarged and printed using either a high-resolution digital camera or scanner technology...'

So, maybe I don't have to organise my digital neg scan files after all...

Friday, 29 March 2013

Archiving: now is the time

Earlier this week, I trekked up to The Photographers' Gallery to watch/listen to a set of presentations and a panel discussion around the issue of 'the archive'.  The unvoiced questions on everyones' lips and some of the answers included the following (paraphrased and summarised for inclusion in this blog):

Q:  Do we need to think about organising our work into some sort of archive? 

A:  Yes.

Q:  Why should we do it?

A:  Several reasons, perhaps the most important is to ensure that after our deaths, we don't leave our loved ones with one hell of a mess (forgive the language).  Also, an organised life's work is much less likely to end up in a skip. 

Q:  When should we start?
A:  NOW.  It's got to be easier getting organised as you go along, rather than leaving it to a time consuming retrospective exercise.

Q:  How should we start?

A:  Get yourself some sort of system.  Find out how other people organise themselves.  Southam and Millington's Archive Research Project is going to be creating a website and sharing some case studies: look out for this!  However, there are things you can do NOW: Firstly, the basics.  If working from negatives: number your neg pages and corresponding contact sheets.  If scanning, or working digitally - have some sort of naming/numbering system that others will be able to follow.  Also, keep your documentation, your notes and diaries, encouraging letters/emails from friends, publishers - anyone - these could be of interest in the future.

Q:  How do we continue?

A:  Once you've got your system - stick with it.  Don't throw stuff away.  Keep your mistakes and successes.  These will be of interest to the researchers of the future.  Top tips from Susanna Brown of the V & A include:

  • Archive your material in the original chronological, working order.
  • Be tidy, orderly and consistent.
  • DO NOT EDIT your history.
  • Do not create a new system when trying to rationalise - find out what is out there and what will work for you and the holders of your collection in the future.
  • Talk to institutions before you die...  See if any of them are interested...

Additional tip from Mark Power:

  • As well as organising your work and scanning negatives, make sure that you print off actual physical copies of your best pictures.  Who knows if CDs and hard-drives are going to be readable in 100 years...  But a real, tactile, tangible print is going to be a thing of interest for ever (unless you burn your house down of course.)

Q: What do we do/can we do with our archive when we've shuffled off this mortal coil?

A:  This is a problem.  At the moment - there is NO coherent national strategy for the collection of photographic works.  Separate institutions, such as The V & A, Birmingham Library and The Tate are doing their bit - but it's not enough.  Importantly - there is not enough space to house everything and no funding to ensure archives can be looked after in suitable, controlled environments... 

However, all is not doom and gloom...  Jem Southam and Val Millington are carrying out a research project to see if they can come up with some answers.  They're working closely with individual photographers, including Daniel Meadows and Mark Power, and institutions that believe in photography...  The findings are going to be interesting...

p.s.  When thinking about the archive, the idea of 'value' pops up...  Bear the following in mind, value can be focused on the market, artistic, historical and research interest...  The chances are, it'll be other people who deem if our work is 'valuable' or not, but just in case it is, then best get it organised!

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Sentimental Archive

I want to write about this, but at the moment can't quite order the thoughts in my head.  The photograph comes from the family 'archive' of my landlord in Newport.  His family are originally from Bristol.  He has no idea who the couple are, but I guess that doesn't matter.  I love the way his best beloved is 'patched' onto the background.  I've never seen anything like this before.

Monday, 21 January 2013

With thanks to Rachel Cusk

Isn't it funny how photography can sometime dominate one's thoughts?  On Saturday, I read a piece by Rachel Cusk in the Guardian.  Focusing on ‘the inexorable rise of creative writing workshops’,  Cusk asks, ‘can fiction writing really be taught and by what academic criteria can it be judged?‘   Weirdly, I found myself substituting the word ‘photography’ into the text, each time ‘writing’ was mentioned...
So, with all credit to Rachel Cusk, please find to follow short sections of the article.  Where I have amended her text, you will find my words in italics.

On how being a ‘photographer’ is changing:

‘The ascent of photography courses has given photographers a different kind of work to do, and is transforming every established role - photographer, reader, editor, critic...’

On photography within academia:

‘In one way it’s high time photography was formalised: academic institutions offer a shelter for photographic values, and for those who wish to practise them, in a way that publishing, being increasingly market-driven, does not.  Painters and musicians have long been protected in a similar way - it is both an entitlement and a necessity for creative people to study and refine their craft.  Yet photography courses are often seen as being somehow bogus, as even threatening those photographic principles they set out to enshrine, though the truth is that the separation of art from popular values in photography has been virtually impossible to bring about.  this is a source of great dynamism in photographic culture, for anyone can be a photographer - at the very least, while the average person could not compose a masterpiece, a significant minority want to make good pictures.’

Concerning the subjectivity and variety of the photographer/audience/tutor:

‘A photography workshop will contain students whose ambitions and abilities, whose conceptions of photography itself, are so diverse that what they have in common - the desire to photograph - could almost be considered meaningless.  Moreover, different photography tutors will respond to the work in unpredictable ways.  One will like what the other dislikes; contradictory advice can be given in two different classes about the same piece of work.  So the question is, how can academic appraisal proceed on such terms?

On the subject of assessment:

The upper benchmark of academic assessment is that the work should be “of publishable standard”, which implies (though doesn’t actually state) a touching faith in publication as an assurance of quality.  Students are asked to demonstrate a critical and theoretical understanding of their own processes; they are formally entitled to individual attention from tutors, by rota in workshops and by a stated number of contact hours outside workshops; their work is regularly marked, double-marked, and submitted to an external examiner as a failsafe mechanism; marks are lost for misuses of, among other things, grammar, punctuation and spelling; tutors are answerable for the marks they give before a board.  Appraisal, in other words, is rather more rigorous than a lot of what happens at a picture editor’s desk.

Thinking about standards and the changing of ones’ opinions:

How are standards - publishable or otherwise - defined?  The answer is: by agreement.  There is no autocratic way of assessing photography: the shared basis of visual language forbids it.  Agreement is the flawed, frightening, but ultimately trustworthy process by which photography is and always has been judged.  When Virginia Woolf read ‘Ulysses’ she dismissed it out of hand, then she talked about it to Katherine Mansfield and changed her mind.  Photography teaching is predicated on something like that model.

 Concerning the power of photography:

Photography is not only the medium through which existence is transacted, it constitutes [one of] our central experiences of social and moral content, of such concepts as freedom and truth, and most importantly, of individuality and the self; it is also a system of lies, evasions, propaganda, mis-representation and conformity.  Very often a desire to photograph is a desire to live more honestly through the photograph; the student feels the need to assert a “true” self through the photograph...

You can read the on-line version of Cusk's piece about Creative Writing courses by clicking here