Thursday, 19 April 2012

Like seeing Elvis in Sainsbury's

The New York Times has an interesting article up here in which they are seeking help from members of the public to identify unknown members of the crowd at the 1960 Democratic National Convention in pictures taken by Garry Winogrand and supposedly never before seen. The images have little cut-out versions next to them where all previously unknown figures have been sillhouted and numbered for easy identification. At the bottom of the article people can attribute numbers to face such as one readers insane notion that a young woman in the image is actress Sean Young (Young was in her early twenties when she made Bladerunner in 1980?!). A couple of interesting finds that relate this article to photographic history however are from a couple of people claiming that two press photographers in image are none other than Cornell Capa and Lee Friedlander. I'm no expert on either of these giants of photography but since both were jobbing photographers at the time and Capa set up the International Center of Photography and was a member of MAGNUM (of which brother Robert was a founding member with Cartier-Bresson), I'd say there is a pretty good chance its them.

Take a look for yourself over at the original article and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

The Lively Morgue:

A great tumblr blog that started fairly recently is The Lively Morgue an online repository for the archives of the New York Times. As you might expect from the greatest newspaper from the greatest city in the world everything is pretty NY-centric featuring images of cops, skyscrapers and baseball most prominently. What is most interesting to me though is that that next to every image they also have a small thumbnail which allows you to 'flip' the image and see its back as if you really were standing in the 'photo-morgue' of the New York Times. For someone who writes regularly about the materiality and ephemerality and social and industrial use of photography this simple site really gets me interested and after a recent, similar exhibition of the backs of press photos (made by jobbing photographers who went on to bigger things, such as Bill Brandt) here in the UK it is good to see the trend being extended towards websites. I, for one, always take photos of the back as well as the front of a photo in an archive where possible.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Visit to the Black Cultural Archives

So, starting a new and exciting series of mini-reviews (in a broad fashion) of various physical archives I went along to the Black Cultural Archives today. Before I went I looked at their online catalogue and was confounded when none of my search criteria came back. I ended up typing in the word ‘photograph’ which meant of course that every photographic image, including photos of objects such as paintings and sculptures and various dull things came back which I had to scroll through, but that was no surprise. It’s a common archival complaint. What really was annoying was that every time I had looked at an items individual page and tried to go back to your last place instead it took you right back to the beginning of the search, meaning you had to scroll through everything again! ARGH. I had already been in touch with Hannah (something I recommend that you do as they are only open one day a week as of this writing and places usually fill up quick) and told her the photos I was interested in looking at so she had them ready for me when I arrived. The BCA is located in Kennington which is very close to the Elephant and Castle shopping centre and is extremely inconspicuous. In fact their sign appeared to have been hijacked by the Portuguese language school in the floor below who had put up a photocopied sign for their business over the BCA's! The building is very dated and falling apart (the automatic door wasn’t working and the toilet was being used as a storeroom) so I am sure they are really looking forward to the move to the new site next year.

When I arrived upstairs I had to sign a few forms including a photography agreement and pay two pounds for the privilege, which I haven’t been asked for in an archive before. I had a good chat to Janet Brown, a colleague of mine form the V&A who is working also at BCA now. Lovely woman. Always a pleasure and she gave me some top tips on some other matters so I felt like my trip had already been worth it.

After that I sat down and Hannah gave mea large grey box, one at a time: Each box opened like a folder and had a binder in its centre into which was placed thick A4 clear pockets holding something in the form of a photograph. There were many envelopes within the clear pockets, which held maybe one or two negative strips each. The strange thing was that they often had completely different catalogue numbers to their counterpart prints, so that where a negative might have an accession number of Photo/28.1 and the print taken from it Photo/28.2 they would instead have completely different numbers and be found vastly apart in the file! Madness. A lot of the items also were merely photocopies out of books. I’m sure the books are very interesting and the images are all very interesting but unfortunately many of them also related specifically to African American history and not BLACK BRITISH HISTORY.

I understand that these are a lot of minor quibbles but they do add up and all in all I have to admit that, in terms of photo-research I was rather disappointed. I was and I wasn’t looking for anything in particular (I didn’t expect them to have anything in relation to what I was looking for so was prepared for a bit of a sojourn) but I felt that these three boxes represent the whole of the BCA’s photograph and image holdings, which is a bit sad really. I applaud them for their efforts as what they are doing at BCA is obviously a huge undertaking – not to mention that the archives are only as good as the items that are donated to them – and the staff were all friendly and busy getting on with their work and having meetings so I feel like I should cut them a bit of slack. I guess I had certain expectations having previously met some of the staff and I guess I still have this semi-romantic idea of archives being these repositories of power (copyright John Tagg) but more and more I find that they are often just one old man sat alone in a tiny room surrounded by boxes of useless stuff.

Disclaimer: That’s a metaphor btw, I don’t actually think that anyone at the BCA could be considered an ‘old man’.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

SOURCE archive season

Seems that photo magazine SOURCE are kickstarting an interesting 3 month season of events relating to the photographic archive. Featuring lots of short films about some of this country's most interesting archives, such as the John Blakemore and Jo Spence archives which are private and relate to the works and private papers of those photographers, as well as the generally brilliant Archive of Modern Conflict and The Royal Anthropological Archive as well as lots of interesting articles and interviews relating to all things photographically archival.

More details HERE>>>>>