Monday, March 27, 2006

Archive fever, vol. IV

The New York Times printed an excerpt from Rick Poynor's essay from Print magazine about found photographs. Poynor argues that the interest in magazines such as Found magazine, sites such as Look at Me, the Horus Archives, and Time Tales are evidence of some cultural gesture toward amateurism and nostalgic unmediation:

It's the emotional implications that make found photographs so fascinating. They look much the same as the snapshots that fill our own family albums. Yet cut loose from their points of origin, they become objects of deep mystery...

These unofficial images answer a persistent need to belive that photographs can still capture some essential, unvarnished truth about the subject. Where, even before the digital era, professional photographers were often show to have manipulated images that might appear to represent actuality, amateur photographers can still be given the benefit of a doubt. Their directness, ineptitude, and lack of artifice become signs of reliability. The taste for these pictures is a measure of our enduring hunger to experience unmediated reality.

I'm not sure that's the only conclusion one could draw from the found photography phenomenon. For one thing, Found takes far more delight in snarkiness than in nostalgia (the Columbia equivalent, perhaps, is the Digitalia feature of the Blue & White). William Gibson took the idea of how people connect to found photographs/footage in a completely different direction in his brilliant novel, Pattern Recognition. Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves is scary take on found materials. It took me two tries to love Gibson's novel and I'm not totally into Danielewski, but they're both ambitious books that move away from the nostalgia trope toward something weirder.