Project 2 The archive – Exercise 1

Exercise 1

Question for Seller re-situates images in a different context and in so doing allows for a new dialogue to take place. Reflect on the following in your learning log:

Does their presence on a gallery wall give these images an elevated status?

This is an interesting question and one I found myself querying a number of months back when I attended a fascinating exhibition at the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath ‘History Through a Lens’. The exhibition was of photographs from photojournalism and documentary photography from a wide variety of photographers placed side by side in an exhibition space rather than the broadsheets of a newspaper or magazine. By taking the photographs out of their original context they take on a fresh or different story, they also spoke of the history of the genre.

I am a little bit dubious about the intentions of someone using photography they have ‘found’, then re-branding it, sticking it on a wall and calling themselves an artist. Maybe its just me, maybe I’m wrong. The whole process and auction seems like a bit of a gimmick/PR stunt to me rather than a study of photography and its historical context. Maybe label yourself as a photography/art historian. Having said that, I have viewed some great photo-books using archives and found photography such as ‘Stonehenge: A History in Photography by Julian Richards’.

Yes, I do believe placing these on a gallery wall gives them some kind of ‘elevated status’, to what degree I guess depends on the advertising and PR behind the event. I could stick some old found photos on a wall and not tell anyone, the photographs haven’t changed at all nor has their significance to me but no one would know anything about them. Perhaps this is what Nicky Bird is asking us to question in regards to our feelings with photography in history. You could say all photography is history, the moment you take a photograph its history, how significant its role in the history of society as a whole is a different question altogether.

Where does their meaning derive from?

I’m not 100% sure I am clear what this question is asking me?! The meaning of what?

The photographs had their original meaning, whatever they were, taken for family photo albums to be shared with friends and loved ones.

The meaning of the photographs from their original intention has been stripped away and re-branded. I think this is a little bit risky with photography in general terms and leans towards the photograph as a lie. Is the photograph truth/reality or fiction? By taking photographs away from their original context you are indeed creating something new but you could also create an entirely fabricated story, using snippets of reality and create a whole new, false sense of history and reality.

For me history shouldn’t be distorted so carelessly. I think its ethically wrong, regardless of artistic intention. At the start of this section in the course-book it states “Photographic archives have allowed artists to create fictional histories based on photographs already in existence”. I don’t like the term fictional history, it opens up the floodgates for criticism. I just think it swings toward using photography as a means of propaganda and I don’t like it but maybe I’m taking it too far.

What if this was something of greater historical and social significance that had been re-contextualised? Images from WW2 concentration camps for example.

When they are sold (again on eBay, via auction direct from the gallery) is their
value increased by the fact that they’re now ‘art’?

Not to me but maybe to someone else? Perhaps a collector of old photographs may find them of value or a museum may find them of historical significance, maybe they are of value because they show a certain place or person in time. Maybe a relative of someone in the photographs may find them more valuable, they may hold sentimental value, which in many ways is priceless. Also, to be frank, some people will collect any old crap in the hope that one day it might be worth more than they paid for it.


Question for Seller on YouTube


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