Slides, Photographic Archives and Cybernetic Art ….

Colour/ "Chroma"

Colour OrganChronos[Extract from paper delivered at event “Photographic Archives, Technologies, and Methods of Recording”, 20 Feb 2013, The John Rylands Library, ]

As I’m writing this I’m sat in a basement of the Mansfield Cooper building, the home of Art History & Visual Studies; I’m surrounded by shelves, boxes, papers, equipment for measuring, equipment for viewing; and by cabinets – 55 of them, containing approximately 160, 000 35mm slides, collected over a 30 year period. For now this is the final resting place of a collection and archive which was destined to be chucked, dumped in a skip to make room for more tables and chairs.

But I’m jumping ahead of myself … Let me return to the very start of the boldly named ‘Archive Intervention’ project and to the start of the problem: a collection under threat of being broken up – so-called old and decrepit technology being replaced…

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Postcards from the Park

Project poster‘ Dig! Creative Interpretations: The Whitworth Community Archaeology and History Project’ … I acted as lead Arts Practitoner with another “archive intervention” but this time with the Whitworth Park postcard collection. (See the attached poster for further details).

Learning at Manchester Museum

Last Friday I popped down to the Martin Harris Center to sneak a peak at the artwork generated by local schools around the Whitworth Park Community Archaeology and History Project. Schools were invited to respond to the Park’s Victorian and Edwardian past using artwork, poetry and storytelling. Many of them visited the site during the excavations and all groups had ‘hands-on’ workshops using Edwardian postcard images and modern replicas of clay pipes, glass medicine bottles and Victorian children’s toys. Back at school, the students were challenged to produce their own modern ‘postcard’, on which they also wrote a poem or short story. The workshops highlighted the use of parks as community spaces where people of different backgrounds mingle, and the past formed a point of departure from which to analyse the changing meaning of these vibrant urban green spaces. The pictures speak for themselves…

Postcard 5aPostcard 1aPostcard 3a

Postcard 2aPostcard 4a

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Vivian Maier on “Imagine”…_Summer_2013_Vivian_Maier_Who_Took_Nannys_Pictures/

The incredible story of a mysterious nanny who died in 2009 leaving behind a secret hoard – thousands of stunning photographs. Never seen in her lifetime, they were found by chance in a Chicago storage locker and auctioned off cheaply.

Now Vivian Maier has gone viral and her magical pictures sell for thousands of dollars. Vivian was a tough street photographer, a secret poet of suburbia. In life she was a recluse, a hoarder, spinning tall tales about her French roots. Presented by Alan Yentob, the film includes stories from those who knew her and those who revealed her astonishing work.

Available to watch until 11:44PM Tue, 6 Aug 2013

Artists using archives: Bruce McLean is not an Archivist…!

GSA Archives and Collections

The leading British artist, Bruce McLean has released an extract of a new film work, Archiving The New. The piece was produced especially for an event launching an important new publication, All This Stuff: Archiving The Artist, which took place at the White Cube Gallery, Bermondsey on May 23rd 2013.

You can find an extract of the work, made by Bruce McLean, Donald Smith and Debra Welch, here:

All This Stuff: Archiving The Artist  is published by the Art Libraries Society (ARLIS UK & Ireland) and Libri Publishing. For more information about the book, visit the Libri Publishing website.

The book breaks new ground in the field of archive theory, documenting the innovative ways in which the arts are challenging the distinctions, processes and crossovers between artworks and archives. The book includes a chapter by CHELSEA space Director Donald Smith and McLean entitled ‘The Impossibility…

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Tate Project: Dying Technologies: the end of 35 mm slide transparencies

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while … the link to Tate’s very own ‘slide project’ which ran June 2011 – December 2012:

“This project investigates the future of artworks for which 35 mm slides form an artistic medium and explores the implications of the discontinuation of analogue slide film and related technologies for the preservation and display of these works of art.

While 35 mm slide transparencies are a medium in their own right, they are also an interesting hybrid, lying between still photography and motion picture technology. The use of 35 mm slides became commonplace in the 1960s; they were used to present images everywhere from the classroom to corporate and domestic environments. However, from the late 1990s onwards this medium has slowly been replaced by digital images, with the term ‘slide’ acting as a metaphor within presentation software packages such as Powerpoint.

Since the 1960s, a number of contemporary artists have adopted 35 mm slides for use as an artistic medium – attracted to them either because the technology was readily available, or because of their specific aesthetic qualities. Many artists also valued the sculptural aspects of the visible apparatus, and the impact this has on the experience of the work. In addition, a carousel slide projector creates a unique soundscape, with the whirr of the fan and the click of the motor as the carousel rotates and alternates the slides. Among the artists associated strongly with 35 mm slides are James Coleman, Francis Alÿs, Hilary Lloyd, Lothar Baumgarten and Nan Goldin.”

…. a fabulously relevant project linking to my concerns for our slide collection.

We need to keep thinking creatively for our collection…….

Reflection: Hazel Shepherd

Some thoughts from undergradute Hazel Shepherd on the workshop held at the Rylands:

I have to confess that, for me, much of the morning programme feeling rather nervous at the prospect of having to present later on, though when the time came I successfully avoided having to speak at all! Of course I was paying attention to the other speakers really, and found the variety of experience very interesting. I’m relatively new to considering the issues around trying to preserve and find use for a supposedly ‘defunct’ slide collection, and I’m slightly ashamed to say that I just hadn’t thought about all the different slide collections out there, and how their differing histories and contents make such a difference to the problems of conservation and access. I now feel much more aware of these variances, and know not to take for granted exactly which questions are being asked about particular slide collections.

The session upstairs looking at particular objects from the Library’s collection also caused me to wonder about how individual items, never intended to last forever, could find themselves conserved and part of such an institution. Photographs that perhaps had been taken to serve as private mementos or keepsakes are now looked at by people who have no idea of whose likeness they are looking at, or why it should have been so remarkable. While this thought made me slightly uncomfortable, it also made me consider the reverence we pay to physical objects, that I really don’t think we feel in anything like the same way for digital files, even if they are reproductions of the same object, or photographs of those we love. It is possible for the physical object to seem under threat in the way that a digital file never could, and it is the need we feel to protect these objects that gives rise to projects and workshops such as these, helping us to understand the different opinions people have of their objects, and I am glad to have been part of such an enjoyable day.

Though, I must admit, my personal highlight was probably being left in charge of the slide projector for a bit – there’s something so satisfying about those things.

Hazel Shepherd
Undergraduate, Art History and Visual Studies

Thank You

A quick update and ‘thank you’ to all those who attended the Photographic Archives workshop at The John Rylands on the 20th Feb – an excellent turn-out (over subscribed!) and some wonderful discussion and talks from speakers and delegates. This is clearly a topic of great interest. I’ll update again sometime this week with a bit more detail regarding the actual content of the day and where we/I hope to take the project from here – stay tuned! ……. For now, visit: for extracts from my own paper delivered on the day.

Finding Vivian Maier

This looks such a brilliant docu-film, and so well timed with the theme of our workshop event (and this project in general!)

I have to confess, I knew nothing of Vivian Maier (a friend sent me the link to the film trailer). A Chicago/ New York street photographer, it seems ‘fame’ and success alluded Ms Maier in her life time, but upon the discovery of her massive body of work in 2007  at a local thrift auction house on Chicago’s Northwest Side, Maier’s work has been the source of a wonderfully exciting research project, with the archive being reconstructed and catalogued by John Maloof.

The beautifully constructed website offers an intriguing narrative:

“There is still very little known about the life of Vivian Maier. What is known is that she was born in New York in 1926 and worked as a nanny for a family on Chicago’s North Shore during the 50s and 60s. Seemingly without a family of her own, the children she cared for eventually acted as caregivers for Maier herself in the autumn of her life. She took hundreds of thousands of photographs in her lifetime, but never shared them with anyone. Maier lost possession of her art when her storage locker was sold off for non-payment. She passed away in 2009 at the age of 83.”

I find this element of the ‘private’ photographic archive fascinating; we assume that street photographers wish to share their vision of the urban world in which they roam and loiter; that to photograph is to communicate a perspective, yet Maier kept these images hidden away. And that Maier was a female photographer, with all the history and theory surrounding the female gaze, her collection opens up yet another wonderfully interesting strand of research for those wishing to engage with photographic archives.

Thank goodness that the individual(s) who discovered Maier’s collection didn’t categorise it with the recent ‘trash’.

I can’t wait to see the film.


Movement & Event …

So, the slides for the time being have found a new home – in one of the basement rooms. Although this isn’t ideal for either access or preservation, it does at least mean that the slide collection is, for the time being, not under threat of being immediately disposed of. However, we still need to give good consideration as to how they can be integrated back into teaching (perhaps specifically in relation to histories of photographic technology) and the room itself requires some reorganisation.

The planning for the event with the John Rylands Library, Deansgate, is coming along nicely. Our working title for the event is Photographic Archives, Technologies, and Methods of Recording; each presenter fits under some aspect of that, whereby photographic technologies are artworks or research objects in themselves or are being used as a way of bringing to life or critically engaging with other existing archives. More details will be posted soon.