Write 500 words in your learning log on a piece of work by one contemporary artist-photographer who uses the archive as source material. You may focus on any artist you wish but you may wish to select either:
- an artist who exhibited as part of the exhibition Archive Fever (2008)
- one of the British artists’ projects produced by UK organization GRAIN
The artist I will look at is Erik Kessells whose work I first saw at the Rencontres D’Arles in 2013. My first reaction to Album Beauty was to wonder why he would want to use family albums, those artifacts that are ‘glorious in their dullness’ (Arles 2013 catalogue), why he would want to trawl through flea markets and second-hand shops and stalls all over the world to find these albums. Tim Clark (1) calls the exhibition “a thought-provoking meditation on the nature of obsolescence.”(1). That obsolescence contextualizes the work in time and one day, perhaps, our current practice of uploading our every move will also be seen as obsolescent – perhaps that day has already been and gone and the mountains of images are being recycled in more ways than one through montage and collage to create different work as in the case of Lilly Lulay, Katie Shapiro and countless others. Anouk Kruithof (2), in focusing on subconscious traveling uses something she found by chance to illustrate something connected to this image re-cycling and obsolescence: she found empty photo sleeves, arranged them randomly on A0 sheets of paper which she then put under glass and arranged them on a gallery wall. In doing this, she invites viewers to fill in the contents of the sheets with memories of their own travels thus experiencing a vicarious or second hand journey. The glass reflects their faces and thus makes the viewers part of the ‘scene’.
Reflecting on that exhibition space in conjunction with Kessells’ maelstrom of printed images uploaded in a 24hr period on Flick’r in the next gallery space suddenly brought home to me the magnitude of our collective and individual desire to upload our expressions or narrate our dull lives to a global audience possibly again to be part of that vicarious journey, to be seen as being part of that bigger picture of humanity.
Recently I wrote a blog on Ted Forbes’ “Nobody cares about your photographs” in which I decried his sentiments that we need to make work that makes a difference, that matters, make us feel better about ourselves. Of course I realize that he is referring to that mountain of daily dumps on social and photographic networks, but I also think that iconic images, images which have mattered in moving people, like Don McCullin’s “Shell Shocked US Marine, The Battle of Hue 1968”, were not premeditated, were not made to make people feel better about themselves.
In an article entitled “The vanishing art of the family photo album.” We see that what Erik Kessells found in the family albums he trawled through was “an archaeology that lists the detritus of beauty, boredom, travel, companionship, innocence, youth, pride and participation.” (1) Those carefully constructed images of self, largely radiating happiness and the best of everything – similar to what we see on social media today – also contain ‘the dissonant, the banal, the disruption to ritualized harmony within family photography.’ He finds beauty in something less than perfection and mistakes which reveal, perhaps, something the photographers did not want to show.
His discoveries record what the archives found in family archives tell us not only of the history of a particular family, but also how habits have changed over time. He discovered a pattern in the making of the family albums which averaged 7 – 8 in number and which record photos of a relationship in the first album, the marriage in the second, fanatical urge to photograph the first child in the 3rd, then the 4th – 7th albums are a complete mix whereas the 8th album would focus on the couple living alone again.
These piles of archaeology exhibited on the floor of what once may have been a family home, invite, ironically, more photographs to be made and uploaded to social media sites because there are no ‘family albums’ any more, yet we need to be part of that picture – even if we don’t quite fit.
- Rencontres D’Arles 2013 catalogue.