Archive Noises

In his chapter, Archive Noises, Joan Fontcuberta (2014) attempts to define the role and purpose of photography in modern society. Since its existence was announced at the Academy of Sciences and the Academy of Fine Arts, by scientist and politician, François Arago on the 19th August 1839, Fontcuberta (2014) defines modern photographic practice as a discourse between documentation and experimentation, and between memory and forgetting. In other words, the photograph enables us to capture details which the human eye might miss, and serve as a prompt to recall visual data, which would otherwise be forgotten. 

Memory and forgetting 

In the age of the Internet, our brains no longer need to retain information, because it can be instantly recalled at the click or tap of a button. However, who is responsible for curating that repository of online images? Whenever I use Google to search for images, I often decide to use which appears on the first three pages of the search engine. If I haven't found a suitable one by then, I usually adapt my search criteria. But what about all of those hundreds of thousands of images that I will never get to see? I sometimes wonder if I am missing something.

Similarly, my own photographic archive sits on an external two terabyte hard drive. After almost losing my photographs when I dropped a previous hard drive, I now also back-up my photos to a WD Cloud. Furthermore, my iPhone sends my photos to the cloud. I find the latter method the most convenient, because my iPhone is always with me, so my photo collection is easily and readdibly accessible. the Photos app even conveniently sorts my images based on the date they were taken, the album that they were saved into and they can even be filtered by face recognition. Meanwhile, the thousands of photographs that I have taken on my DSLR and point and shoot cameras are hidden away, taking up bytes on my external hard drive. I suppose the analogue equivalent would be the packets and packets of photographs that my parents have stored in the attic. Subsequently, my archive resides in many different places. I have forgotten many of those images, yet I keep them so I don't forget them! 

Ecology for a picture

When considering the photographic archive, Fontcuberta (2014) refers to the Salamanca Papers, which were seized by General Franco's rebels at the end of the Spanish Civil war in 1939. It represented a symbolic loss of control of the past (Fontcuberta, 2014). Franco's regime retained the photographs of people they wanted to purge. The photographs were considered to be documents, which contained valuable data. Over time, this archive has shaped the memory of those who are still alive today (Fontcuberta, 2014). Aware of how archives, such as the Salamanca Papers have been institutionalised by history, Fontcuberta (2014, p172) believes that:

the first critical duty of the historian is to deinstitutionalise history, to deconsecrate strip it of authoritarian discourse.

Following this, Foncuberta refers to Joachim Schmid's work, and how it encouraged other photographers to deconsecrate memory. 

Joachim Schmid's belief that our stubbornness to hold on to the photographs that we take, has led to a 'glut of images' (Fontcuberta 2014). If the purpose of photography was to document the world, then it has achieved its purpose. Surely, there is nothing left to photograph. Rather than continue to add to the mountain of images, his solution is for the existing photographs to be recycled. That there is more value in the selection of exiting photographs, than taking more of the same. Schmid confirms this by stating that:

I've been working with found / appropriated imagery because I think that basically everything in the world has now been photographed in every possible way. ...making more pictures is no longer a creative challenge...It's not so much the production of photographs which needs to concern us, but the use of them.

Fontcuberta's chapter is a rallying cry for us to recycle existing imagery instead of adding to it. After all, we now recycle carrier bags and tin cans, so why not photographs.

Reading Schmid's view has made me realise that I don't take my camera out as much nowadays for the very same reason. I don't want to add even more images to an archive which is rarely looked at. At times it feels as though I'm drowning in a sea of images, and I don't want to make it deeper!

Maybe that's why the selfie phenomenon is now a large part of digital culture. The only way to have a unique picture of a place or event is if we put ourselves in the the picture.  

Fontcuberta (2014) refers to Schmid's 'Masterpieces of Photography', which he produced with Adib Fricke. The archive that they chose to select their images from existed in flea markets and second hand book shops. The chosen photographs were the very same ones that had been discarded and abandoned. They had been deselected from their original archives. 

During this time, in the last third of the twentieth century, photography became incorporated into the art market. Subsequently, there needed to be a method of distinguishing between different authors, styles, schools and works. Photographs became collectors items, in the same way that portraits and landscape paintings had. Fontcuberta (2014) continues by claiming how the singularity of the photographic print and the recovery of aura made it a valued commodity and a collector's item. 

However, this predetermined criteria meant that many photographic prints remain unknown, despite potentially being considered worthy of the title 'masterpiece '. Although Fricke and Schmid chose images that were resembling the work of established, renowned photographers, Fontcuberta (2014) stresses that their photographs should not be referred to as 'false masterworks ', but known as 'alternative masterworks. Therefore, we are unaware of any other styles of photography, which is similar to those images that linger at the bottom of Google's search ranking. Furthermore, there may have been other talented photographers who remain unknown because they were not fortunate to fit the criteria for their work to be exhibited to a wide audience.

Fontcuberta (2014, p. 175) continues by stating that every photograph is:

"both a graphic representation that depends on perceptual and cultural factors, and a material support with its characteristics as an object."

Ever since the thick copper plate of a Daguerreotype, the photograph has gradually got thinner and much more portable. Even in this digital age, the screens which exhibit digital photographs are getting thinner and cover more surface area of the device. Whilst many of us no longer print photographs, it retains its form as an object via smart phones and tablets. When you are holding the photograph as an object, you are able look back in time, or to another reality. 

  The ability to remember places and events, which otherwise would have been forgotten, is one of the reasons why I don't like to delete photographs from my archive. A box of dusty old photographs taking up space in an attic is more likely to be discarded than a few bits and bytes on a hard drive. If I delete the images I can't go back to the same time.  Maybe if I didn't know that I had those images to hand, I would try harder to remember them. Then I wouldn't need to save the images!

During my studies with the OCA, I have tried to be more selective about which images I will keep at the point of capture. Then at least those that I save are worthwhile. 

As I begin this part of the course, I am excited to have the opportunity to look through my own archive again. 

In addition to this, Fontcuberta's chapter has made me think about why we take photographs and who are they for. Also, who is it who should decide what makes a good photograph. After all, one person's 'noise' might be another person's 'music'. Before I started studying with the OCA I had never heard of photographers, such as Walker Evans and Ansel Adams. Therefore, I presume that there are many others who are unfamiliar with the work of renowned photographers. 


Fontcuberta, J. (2014) Pandora's Camera: Photogr@phy after Photography. London: Mack

'Very Miscellaneous', Joachim Schmid interviewed by Val Williams, in Insight, (Photoworks, Brighton, February 1998).