Photographs Objects Histories. On the Materiality of Images. Edited by Elizabeth Edwards and Janice Hart

This book of chapters explores the photograph as a material object. Having read it all too briefly it’s back on my FMP reading list as I consider how original vintage photographs are transformed when I include them in my work; particularly how the digitalisation processing of vintage analogue photographs alters them.

At the core of the writings, the book considers the photograph not only as a 2D image, but a 3D object. Below are my notes describing the initial contextual connections I have found to my own work.

“Three important features of the photograph are central to many debates about the complexity of photographs: the materiality of the photographic object, the concept of the original photograph and the origin of photographic meaning.  It is therefore appropriate to consider a photograph as a multilayered laminated object in which meaning is derived from a symbiotic relationship between materiality , content and context. From this foundation it is possible to investigate how these aspects of the photograph are altered during the digitalisation process.” (Sassoon p.199)

The words ‘materiality, content and context’ are central to the work I have been doing; with the material features and content obvious, particularly when the album was dissected. Context has been more problematic as I tried and failed to uncover historical facts encapsulated within the photographs; known to the album owners but a mystery to me, today’s viewer.

“In choosing , sequencing, organising and captioning the photographs for the album, the person responsible transforms the meaning of selected images into an intensely individualistic expression. At the moment of creation, the photo album is a personal artefact, a record of people and events that are rich with biography and personal memory….clearly marked by the traces of their owners and their practices.’ (Wilumson, p66)

Researching using genealogy websites I’ve searched for records but have only been able to fictionalise personal memories. Where the archives have not provided answers I have created stories to imagine what  could  have been there. Where there are missing photographs text has provided me with clues. Some photographs have been cut, others removed violently from the page, leaving tears and holes.

“The physical condition of the object, the dirt and damage, is evidence of its other lives”. (Sassoon, p200)

These ‘other lives’ remain a mystery, I do not know why certain photos were selected for removal and why others were protected, only to then be disposed of, wholesale, as the album found its way to an online auction.  Paradoxically the images that were so violently removed were most likely kept safe, as a memory, whilst those kept In the album were forever lost.

Whilst trying to find out more about certain images in the album, I used a magnifying lupe hoping to find more clues. It was an aid in identifying characters that appeared more than once:

“using a Lupe to magnify detail in an original photograph…physically draws the viewer into the core materiality of the object…while almost touching the object’s surface.” (Sassoon, p215)

‘Photographs exist in time and space… “They are made, used, kept, and stored for specific reasons which do not necessarily coincide…they can be transported, relocated, dispersed or damaged, torn and cropped because viewing implies one or several physical interactions” (Porto 2001:38 in Edwards and Hart, p3-4)’

The middle section of my Work in Progress takes a closer look at the album itself, the paper, the way light and shade casts shadows through the tears in the pages. These new images bring a new quality to the work, at the same time staying true to its original materiality. The only post production editing to these images involved the manipulation of curves, levels and contrast.

“While present in photographic objects and vintage prints…physical qualities…are hard to replicate and often lost completely in copies using modern photographic materials.” (Sassoon p.200). It is my hope that in photographing the pages in such detail I have in some way preserved old meanings and references within them, even though invisible two the eye.

…digitising suspends old meanings and creates new ones in new collections…(Sassoon p202)

Full references can be found on the References page of this blog.