Antonino and the archive today

The world seems to need more pictures, more ways to fit them into our worlds; their omnipresence today appears to be tomorrow’s opportunity to create a competition to create more, more images and more ways to create them. Imagery creation, creating image. The ticking of the shutter release even on shutter-less cameras an increasing soundscape to all we do. Much has been said of the volume of pictures that flood our lives, Kessels’ installation of the Flickr upload in a 24 hour period is dwarfed if compared to all pictures made in the same period on the day he chose and already those numbers pass into the penumbra of a new day’s dawn of image creation. That of today.

At the turn of the previous century, on the cusp of modernism, Kodak provided the means of democratization in the medium by which the image both devalued and exalted the object of it’s gaze. Atget and Lartigue, the vernacularists attempting to catch the exhaustion that Calvino’s Antonino would come to accept, that the only course left was to photograph the photograph and not the photographed because it was already in an image album somewhere. The banal becoming first more beautiful and then, later in the century, reveling in a connoisseurship of the tawdry and mundane and as the clock ticks the numbers rise and their value, outside the speculated and manipulated, reduces. The worth of the photograph maker continues to diminish, the currency of the artist in a world now flush with bandwidth seems to be being directed to the walls of those that were not targeted by Kodak and are now by Nokia and Apple.

Cameras are now no longer a choice decision; they are part of the furniture of life. Exclamations of surprise at the cohabitation of image capture and creation with voice telephony is no longer shrill; it is now a purposeful decision to elect not to have a camera/phone or indeed a phone/camera. The interconnectedness is deemed not an optional extra but a choice au natural, why wouldn’t it be there? The camera exists as by rights on computers, on mobile phones, on walls, on children’s toys, on pylons, on doors, on spectacles, on kitchen appliances and on and on and on.

This ubiquitous availability informs how we value them, this sense of acceptance that the world is now available through an image has driven the photographer from the news desk in newspapers, from the documentary photographers place at the front line of conflict both national and domestic, the value of these images are as ephemeral as their permanence as records, Antonino’s precept has perhaps more currency today then when first proposed over half a century ago, and now seems more prescient than ever, though tomorrow will declare another record in image creation. Tick tick.

As I regard this medium’s diminishing worth in the stack ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap world that pervades our every existence as artist, as photographers, as life on this planet I begin to wonder at a most curious phenomena. This ever-reducing worth ascribed to the image has been matched by an ever increasing charge to the very same item. This denomination though isn’t, and cannot be matched by Gursky’s super banality monetary association but by the emotional value attributed to it by both individual and state alike. The photograph has never had so much collateral value, it potency comes despite the general acceptance of it’s lack of legitimacy, it’s mimetic potency when tasked with the presentation of so-called truth.

The creation of an image of a person or property is now more highly governed both in law and by social stigmatic response, than ever before. Individual rights associated with the capture of an image have some echoes with Papuan New Guinean tribes-people who thought that perhaps their souls were being extracted by this devilish contraption. That society feels a need to be protected suggests that the value of the captured image is perhaps even beyond valuation and that it’s very presence as a physical entity – despite it’s physical ephemerality – should be expunged from existence, that to have it available is anathema to the normal structure of a normal society. Calvino found his mid century perspective of his privileged Antonino’s perspective, a fond remembrance of a life without photographic restriction, his model voluntarily disrobing as a prelude to the act of photography, describing herself in an act of humility which guided them to love, had no need for a release form. The release in their case was love; that this love foundered on a photographer’s obsessive need for recreation of the object of his desire is a subjunctive denouement neither could have foreseen.

Indemnification against every possible eventuality is now a precursive intercourse between even complicit subject and object; signs abound about “no photography here”. I wonder if it is a condition of the ‘watched-society’ that fosters this predilection of concern of the potential potency of the image, but it is perhaps more curious that in a time where the image is valued less and less, becoming more and more fleetingly regarded; that it’s potency should have become so charged with emotive currency meaning that few dare to cross the rubicon of personal space to create images that were once standard fare.

Antonino’s search for imagery to photo-copy will, in another half century be perhaps thwarted by a lack of vernacular imagery, despite the omnipresent image capturing technology, despite the fathomless depths of digital storage, as those very images will have been deleted assuming they were ever taken. What then for the archivist to mine for a narrative of the early twenty first century, lost USB devices found and sold on an ebay flea market?


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