Monday, 7 February 2011

Picture libraries - AP and Magnum

As part of the archives course I am attending, I was invited recently to the photo library of Associated Press. This is situated in an old gin factory in Camden Town. AP 'went digital' in 1995, but the negatives (or ‘negs’) before this date, are stored in a cold room. They sit alongside a massive card index, a small section of which you can see in the picture. There is something you get from flicking through these drawers that is not replicated in a computerised system – a sense of the human behind the cataloguing.

You can search the AP Images database to see the sort of material that is currently uploaded, as well as selected pictures from the archive (e.g. the photographs of AP photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt).

The photographers, though, are not the focus of the agency, unlike at Magnum – which is a cooperative, owned by the photographers. The current exhibition, The Magnum Markat the Magnum Print Room, shows the photographic print as collectors' items.

Some of the prints are displayed in hinged frames, so that you can see the ‘magnum mark’ on the back – and in the examples here, a succession of marks – part of the provenance, which confers value (or a specific sort of value) on the print. The care taken in the darkroom is evident in the ‘print maps’ – here shown through the work of Magnum printer, Pablo Inirio.

Two very different visions of the photographer are presented at AP and Magnum respectively: the photographer as hack and the photographer as auteur. 

Related links

AP Images

Corbis Corp

Getty Images

'Getty Images, Inc' n.d., Datamonitor/Life Science Analytics Company Profiles, EBSCOhost, viewed 4 February 2011


Friday, 4 February 2011

Carrot or potato – but which is better?

The rhizome includes the best and the worst: potato and couchgrass, or the weed.
Deleuze and Guattari (1987 [1980])
On the 22nd January, Sas Mays – Senior Lecturer in Cultural and Critical Theory – led a seminar on critical approaches to the Archive. This was based at the Photographers’ Gallery offices and part of the Investigating the Archive course I am attending.

The carrot, an umbelliferous plant, with a hierarchical root system (with a primary root, from which secondary roots form, which in turn branch to form tertiary roots) was contrasted to the tuberous potato, in order to explore metaphors for seeing the world, or of organising knowledge, or of organising the Archive. In so doing, we were exploring the ideas expressed by Deleuze and Guattari in their stream-of-consciousness-like work A thousand plateaus.

The taproot, like the carrot – but more often the tree – is typically used as a metaphor for knowledge – for example by the thirteenth century writer, Ramon Llul [Arbor_scientiae]. In some senses, it suggests a closed form of thinking, since it privileges structure and hierarchy, which are implicit within the Archive. Rhizomatic (potato-like) thought, in contrast, “stresses multiplicity, complexity, multi-dimensionality and chaos” (Rhizome, 2004).

In Foucault’s analysis, if knowledge is power, then the organisation of knowledge is the organisation of power; and the Archive stands in symbolic relationship to existing power structures – reflecting, representing, and perpetuating them. Photography, too, is implicated. The anthropometric work of Alphonse Bertillon (e.g. tableau synoptique des traits physonomiques) can be cited in this context and so too can Jacob Riis, but there are many other examples.

But, if these readings of the Archive don’t seem to fit with the anti-authoritarian urgency of the Weiner Library (for example), it is perhaps well to remember that while philosophers always reflect on reality, reality does not always reflect on philosophers. Deleuze and Guattari are an entertaining read because they flirt with the non-linear, and pose with the chaotic, but are ultimately neither; their reasoning against reason is reflexive.

Further reading

Deleuze, Gilles; Guattari, FĂ©lix (1987 [1980]) ‘Introduction: Rhizome’, in A thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia, trans. Massumi, Brian. University of Minnesota Press.

Rhizome (2004), in The Sage Dictionary of Cultural Studies, Sage UK, London, United Kingdom, viewed 30 January 2011, from