Sue Breakell on Negotiating the Archive (Breakell, 2008)– summary and my thoughts
What is an archive? A space where things are hidden? Rows of impenetrable boxes? A collective memory bank (the National Archive).
To deprive oneself of the archive is to lose one’s memory – but can the sheer volume become overwhelming?
If there is too much information does the ‘archive’ become more valuable, the most important part?
A professional archive is a collection of historical records relating to something and/or the place where the record is kept.
Popular meaning – any group of gathered objects
Ketalaar- ‘By the People, of the People, for the People’ (Ketelaar, 2003)
The significance of an archive can depend on what it contains, but also how it is arranged, and the relationships of objects within it (which may change).
An archive is (or should be) more than just a collection, a set of traces that each throw light on the rest
An archivist should describe, but not interfere. But looking at the archive cannot be unbiased, what you see depends on both your interests and what you are looking for.
Curtin University – archives are frozen in time… linked to the past but also carried forward ….as they are re-presented and used
The context of the items is important, where did it come from? how was it created? A document is what remains – but is only part of the original event. Parts of the event will always be absent leading to ambiguity (Derrida). There are always gaps.
Why do we want archives?
An illusion of truth?
Steedman’s point – ‘the past is searched for something …. that confirms the searcher in his or her sense of self’(Steedman, 2006)
They give layers of meaning to life
Archives can be used to create personal histories (Goshka Macuga) – to find one’s identity when creating something
The act of remembrance involves both storage and retrieval. Traces of things that we respond to, reflections of ourselves in the world.
“To gaze implies more than to look at – it signifies a psychological relationship of power, in which the gazer is superior to the object of the gaze.” Schroeder. J, in Barbara B Stern, Representing Consumers: Voices, Views and Visions (1998) London: Routledge. Pg 208.
The gaze is an important in the theory of photography. There are multiple ways of looking at what that actually means. A simple list that summarises it is:
The photographer’s gaze
What they are actually looking at and how they are looking, which might be though the lens of the camera – but could also be by looking at the image that they are planning (an example of this would be in the work of Gregory Crewdson).
The viewer’s (spectator’s) gaze
The male gaze is discussed in Berger’s Ways of Seeing (Berger, 1973) – ‘Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at’ – and usually implies power, ‘I own the image/object that is shown’. It was initially suggested in relation to film by Laura Mulvey in her essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ (Mulvey, 1975).
The female gaze – initially discussed by feminists in response to Mulvey’s work and now widely used but not clearly defined. Is it about all work by females? Or only about that work with a feminist slant? There is an interesting recent article by Murray Brown that says, ‘if anything, the female gaze is simply an awareness that women do not hold half the power’ (Murray Brown, 2019).
The LGBTQ+ gaze also needs to be considered and has more recently been explored, for instance in the context of the work of Mapplethorpe and Goldin.
The ‘colonial gaze’ – about attitudes to ‘others’ (not white, European or American).
The academics gaze – analysing the context, sources and details
The gaze of the person/people within the image
Where they are looking and who they are looking at- an example of multiple gazes within an image is Jeff Wall’s photograph Picture for Women (1979).
The bystander’s gaze
People looking at people looking! Good examples of these are in Martin Parr’s recent work on Versaille where he has photographed people taking images of themselves (Pégard, 2019).
For a more complicated consideration of the gaze there is an essay by Lutz and Collins in ‘The photography reader’ (Wells, 2010, pp. 354-374) which starts by saying ‘the photograph……is not simply a captured view of the other, but rather a dynamic site at which many gazes or viewpoints intersect’. The essay is written in the context of research on National Geographic images. They discuss seven different types of gaze which I shall summarise here:
The photographer’s gaze which controls the subject matter, the structure, view and content, and which may be emotionally distant (alienated) from the subject
The magazines gaze (they were talking in the context of the National Geographic), but there would be similar issues from any commissioned image – where a specific image is chosen, and the layout will give a desired ‘reading’ to the image
The magazine reader’s gazes where ‘the reader….is invited to dream in the ideological space of the photograph’ (Tagg, 1988), anything that jars may put the reader off interpreting the image as the magazine would want. It is reliant on cultural models, gender and diversity of experience together with the context of reading (a quick skim or detailed look, alone or with other people)
The non-Western subject’s gaze (or more generally the gaze of the subject in the image) divided further into:
Confronting the camera, acknowledging the photographer and the reader ‘I see you looking at me, so you cannot steal that look’ (p.359), what it means is dependant on the expression (smiling, glaring etc.), a collaboration and an attempt at creating intimacy. They note that those who the West defines as weak are more likely to look directly at the camera than those defined as strong – is that editorial choice/political reasons?
Looking at something else within the frame – gives information about the subject of the image
Looking into the distance – may suggest things about the personality of the subject (dreamy, forward thinking)
No gaze visible, too small, covered with a mask – ‘a boundary erected’
A direct Western gaze – in the context of the National Geographic included Westerners in the image may allow the viewer/reader more identification with the image. The meaning will then partially depend on how the various people within the image interact – ‘the mutuality or non-mutuality of the gaze of the two parties’ (p.362). Is the gaze colonial? Is it patronising? These types of images are less frequent now – is that because of a changing view of Americans within the world – the other becoming more threatening and therefore safer behind the camera?
The refracted gaze of the Other: to see themselves as others see them – ‘mirror and camera are tools of self reflection and surveillance’ (p.365), creating a double, looking for self-knowledge. The photo may actually increase alienation, see Sontag’s suggestion ‘the photographer is a supertourist, an extension of the anthropologist……the photographer is always trying to colonise new experiences……to fight against boredom’ (Sontag, 1978).
The academic spectator’s gaze as a subtype of the reader’s gaze which here looks at a critique of the images and why they were made
They summarise by saying that ‘the multiplicity of looks is at the root of a photo’s ambiguity, each gaze potentially suggesting a different way of viewing the scene’ (p.171).
In the OCA handbook for IAP it states:
A key feature of the gaze is that its subject remains unaware of the present viewer. Academics and theorists have identified a number of different gazes:
the spectator’s gaze – the look of the viewer at a person in the image.
the internal gaze – the gaze of one depicted person at another within the same image.
the direct address – the gaze of a person depicted in the image looking out directly, as if at the viewer (through the camera lens).
the look of the camera – the way the camera itself appears to look at people depicted in the image (the gaze of the photographer).
the bystander’s gaze – the viewer being observed in the act of viewing.
the averted gaze – the subject in the image deliberately looking away from the lens.
the audience gaze – an image depicting the audience watching the subject within the image.
the editorial gaze – the whole ‘institutional’ process by which a proportion of the photographer’s gaze is chosen and emphasised.
There is a comprehensive overview of the gaze and accompanying issues available at: http://visual-memory.co.uk/daniel/Documents/gaze/gaze12.html?LMCL=zhc8U6 . In this Daniel Chandler adds in discussion about the direction and angle of the gaze, proximity and how this is varied by race and custom (as is length of time someone will look at you and how direct the gaze will be). He also discusses the eye of the camera, although mostly related to film and TV and notes ‘Looking at someone using a camera (or looking at images thus produced) is clearly different from looking at the same person directly. Indeed, the camera frequently enables us to look at people whom we would never otherwise see at all. In a very literal sense, the camera turns the depicted person into an object, distancing viewer and viewed’ (Chandler, 1988).
This short discussion of different ways of considering the use of the word ‘gaze’ shows many alternative ways of interpreting it and its use within photography. While I was considering this, in the work-up for exercise 3.4 I came across a photo-essay on the BBC news site. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-51767925
I do not usually follow the British royal family – but I thought that many of these images demonstrated the types of gazes listed above. In order:
The spectator’s gaze
The internal gaze
The audience gaze
The editorial gaze
The look of the camera
The bystander’s gaze
The averted gaze
The direct gaze
The direct gaze
The direct gaze
The internal gaze
The internal gaze
The direct gaze and the averted gaze
The direct gaze and the averted gaze
The direct gaze
The bystander’s gaze
The audience gaze
The spectator’s gaze
Barbara B Stern, Representing Consumers: Voices, Views and Visions (1998) London: Routledge. Pg 208.
Berger, J. (1973). Ways of Seeing. New York, Viking Press.
Pégard, C. (2019). Versailles, Visible invisible: Dove Allouche, Nan Goldin, Martin Parr, Eric Poitevin, Viviane Sassen : [exposition, Versailles, Château de Versailles, Domaine du Trianon, 14 mai-20 octobre 2019]. Paris: Éditions Dilecta, Dl.
Sontag, S. (1978). Susan Sontag on photography. London, Great Britain: Allen Lane.
Tagg, J. (1988). The Burden of Representation : Essays on Photographies and Histories. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Wells, L. (2010). The photography reader. Abingdon, Oxon ; New York, Ny: Routledge, pp.354–374.
I joined the OCA photography reader group yesterday for a discussion about Rancière’s essay. Prior to the discussion I had read the essay and looked up various references that he made. I admit that I ended up confused and lacking in any real understanding of what point(s) he was making. Some of the confusion might have been because of the translation from the French, but much was probably because I simply don’t have the background knowledge.
Points thought about prior to discussion:
Need to read Benjamin – I think the point is that Benjamin felt that the mechanical nature of photography allowed for interpretation of signs and information by allowing people to see them as art via their senses. ?Sensible = uses of senses (vision, hearing etc) rather than ‘common-sense’
Invasion of large format images into galleries especially those of portraits of indifferent (?meaning not famous or rare) people are ‘mysterious’ – similar to much earlier portraiture eg Dijkstra’s teenager on the beach = Botticelli’s Venus, re-links an image as a representation and also art.
Barthes (need to read Camera Lucida) – studium (information) and punctum (affective/emotional) redefining as the transfer of one absolute (the photographed object) to a separate absolute (the viewer).
Lewis Hine’s photograph of disabled children – Barthes talks about the small details as being the punctum eg the bandaged finger – but he uses a coincidence of the French language to (same word for doll and bandage) to make the point, also Danton collar – a figure in French history. If you don’t speak French or know the history (as I do not) neither of these would have struck you. The words are only valid within a certain knowledge base. For me the punctum is the expression (or rather lack of expression) on the girl’s face. Was she forced to stand there? Did she even know what was happening? Why did Hind take this image? His images of working children show people who are clearly aware – and may even have been bribed?
The image of ‘the handcuffed man’ (Lewis Payne) – in itself tells you little, you need the backstory – then the questions start. Same about Avedon’s former slave. I think the point Rancière is making is that without information the photograph is meaningless. What the viewer takes depends on that (and where, how and when it is seen).
The photograph tells you nothing about the internal thoughts of the person who is being photographed.
Photography without people – shows absence? of what – containers filled with their own absence – I would have liked to be able to ask the photographers what they were thinking about – was it a metaphysical question or an aesthetic one? Rancière says both – the presence of the forms and the mystery of the merchandise.
Walker Evans farm kitchen – lots of possibilities discussed about why he took that particular image, and who was responsible for the art – the photographer or the farmer who built it (assuming that it wasn’t a ‘set-up’).
Taking about Flaubert and Madame Bovary – assumption of knowledge of this literature – probably more common in a French speaker – but – does make the point that photography is not alone, and that assumptions we make when interpreting images are impacted on by our other learning, reading, watching cinema etc, and also that the photographer’s mindset will have been similarly influenced – life is not a vacuum.
Fried – again I need to read further – talks about how the absorption of a person in what is happening separates them from the spectator (and the rest of the world)
‘The photo does not say whether is is art or not … it tells us neither what the person who laid the planks and the cutlery in this manner had in mind nor what the photographer wanted to do’ (Rancière, 2009) and Kant’s idea that an aesthetic idea prompts much thought but no determinate thought …. can be adequate – quoted by Rancière – from Kant, Critique of Judgement, 1987.
Additional thoughts garnered from the discussion:
When Rancière talks about indifference he is meaning that the object you are photographing is indifferent and it is up to the viewer to give a meaning (which may be different the the one assigned by the photographer
Any photograph can have multiple meanings, art, documentary etc
When identifying something as documentary you need to define the ‘truth’ – long discussion about whether set-ups are valid, remembering documentary originally meant to tell a story about something
Photography is special (different) as you take an image of something that is non-art and make it into art – the indexicality of photography – there is always a thing/where/when – rather than in a painting when the painter starts from a blank.
In films the realism is critically dependent on the soundtrack
All the concepts around image/construction/validity depend on where the image is going to be used and who will see it
The group were very helpful about pointing me towards further information sources
I found the paper fascinating. Thoughts I had (on second reading) were:
The presence of multiple archives effects one’s own feelings about your own archival material. What do they tell us? And who actually ‘owns’ them?
The concept of photography as a ‘time machine’ – I have recently been reading H.G.Wells Time Machine (published 1895) in which he refers to photography and pictures taken at different ages of a person forming a time line, and also the vividness that can come form recalling a specific instant in the past.
Freud talks about ‘artificial memory’, differentiating it from ‘natural memory’ and notes that the forms of producing it are modelled on human sensory functions – this has been occurring for millennia, probably starting with the earliest cave drawings in the Upper Palaeolithic , 40000 years ago, well before the invention of any form of writing. I find it interesting that the first aide memoire was visual.
Freud also comments on the ability of the camera to retain the fleeting visual impression. This reminded me that only some impressions are ever recorded, and they will only every show a partial truth and therefore must be carefully interpreted bearing in mind the adage that history belongs to the victor (a quote that itself is variably attributed to Winston Churchill or Péter Esterházy).
What is the effect of photography on memory? Is memory altered by looking at photographs of an event? Do you remember the event, the photograph or a hazy mixture of both? Is the truth altered? Memory is a combination of vision, sound, smell and touch – producing the mnemic trace – therefore a photograph is limited.
Archives were initially produced on behalf of governments. So – what is chosen to be archived will not be everything, and not be neutral. The role of the librarian is vital. Information can also be lost, or deliberately destroyed. Other forms on public memory are formed though building memorials (victors, soldiers, events) other the simpler and more poignant placing of written tiles on the street in Prague.
Family archives in the form of albums have mainly been replaced by photos published on social media – does this fulfil the same role? Will they last as long? Are they seen by the same groups of people? These images allow people to make links with others they may never meet, to form pseudo-families, to form identities and relationships. Are the images shown in this a context truthful? They may be or may be entirely artificial.
Derrida says, paraphrased, an archive is about the future not the past. So, do we have a duty to the future to keep truthful records, and does truth = neutrality? Information = power.
Photographs are an important source of visual memory because they can record anything the meta-archive. But they also record things that you were not expecting – the ‘bits around the edges’, the backgrounds, often the unwanted bits that change the meaning of an image.
The sheer number of images taken nowadays by any person, within a day, a week or year, multiplied by the number of people taking images, in your town, country, the world is impossible to comprehend. No-one cam look at them all. But can a machine – and what information can the machine draw from them?
Do photographs show what actually happened – or what some people think is important out of what happened and, somewhat scarily, if an image is shown over and over does it become true?
Memories are not always ‘live’ in the brain. They need a trigger. What is the role of what Freud calls ‘screen memories’? Memories can be manipulated and falsified. Do photographs help produce real memories? Do your memories make up your life? And what happens when they collide with someone else’s memories that are different?
Involuntary memory = An involuntary response to an image. An unexpected response to something in the past. Voluntary memory = studium – information that comes externally. Memories are a combination of a complex interaction between artificial memories, from a photograph, a book, or other external information with an ‘natural’ , internal memory.
Public memorial buildings and archives are often produced retroactively which leads to a question about accuracy.
Photographs demand analysis not just an emotional response – this applies to looking at others’ images and considering ones own.
Thoughts following the discussion:
Having read the paper, I was interested in other people thoughts on it. Unfortunately, my system was playing up and I found that I was missing the thread of the conversation at times. I did eventually find a ‘button’ that automatically transcribed the speech, with some hilarious obvious errors.
I did take some notes, shown below, not attributed to the author, and in no particular order:
The overall text is useful and is relevant to everything we are studying at all levels
There is an idea that is someone is leaving something, a home, a school etc archival images of yourself and the others involved are need for maintaining the memory
Caroline Wright? – did some work on things that are no longer in use and how do we value these (not sure about this -may have been in context of archives)
How are things curated and archived? The role of missing memories, for instance those that were deliberately destroyed in Cambodia. How can people find these memories – either personal or ethnographical?
What is so important about the idea of not being in an image, either that you were deliberately left out of the photos, or you were not at an event? Should you photoshop someone in (or out)? And – my thought now – is this different from the practice of cutting people out of a printed photo post a relationship break up? But – more importantly – if you are not in a photo what does it say about you and how other people feel?
Everybody assumes that digital archives are everlasting – but how long do they really last. You delete images as the phone memory is full. What happens in an apocalyptic scenario with no electricity? What is the role of the cloud?
Photographs act as a container/trace of our own memories – but so does music, art, plays and books.
The role of ‘fire hosing’ – so much information is put out online that it becomes impossible to tell what is true and what isn’t. The role of ‘fake news’ – you tend to look at and agree with things that back up your own viewpoint of the world. It is easier to source this now because of the internet.
Why do we take photographs? Is it for the memory? Is it to show someone else? And when am I going to look at all these memories?
How many photographs of our lives are taken and shown now? The constraint between private images and those taken of other people and their children – leading to the need for adequate formal agreements about the use of them
Suggested further reading:
Sophie Calle – Parcue Que – seems to be in French, but I think there is a very recent version called Because in English
Okwui Enwezor – Archive Fever: available on line at: