ELLEN AVRIL: Good morning, everyone. Good morning. My name is Ellen Avril. I'm the co-interim director, chief curator, and curator of Asian art here at the Johnson Museum. And it's my pleasure to welcome you to the symposium, Images, Objects, Archives, The Multiple Lives of Photographs.
This symposium is convened in conjunction with a four-year collaboration between the Johnson Museum and the Cornell University Library entitled Crossing the Photographic Divide, Mining and Making Meeting. We are grateful to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for their generous funding of this initiative through their program that nurtures innovative partnerships between university libraries and museums.
When Cornell University was invited to apply for a grant under this program, we and our colleagues in the library proposed to foster more extensive and coordinated use of the vast photographic collections at Cornell held by the library and the museum, to integrate these visual materials more deeply into the curriculum and into research, and through joint programs and exhibitions such as World Picture, Travel Imagery Before and After Photography, which is currently on display in the Carl A. Crock Library.
Two key members of the project team, art critic, curator, and professor Andy Grundberg Cornell class of 1969, and Kate Addleman-Frankel, the Gary and Ellen Davis Curator of Photography at Cornell, have organized today's symposium. This event is made possible by the generous support of Melissa and Matthew Rubel Family Foundation for photography education and engagement. We thank Andy and Katie for their efforts to put together what promises to be a thought-provoking day of presentations and discussions. And now, I'd like to invite Andy Grundberg to the podium to introduce today's program.
ANDY GRUNDBERG: Thank you, Ellen. On behalf of myself and my co-organizer Katie Addleman-Frankel, I'd like to welcome everyone here today. And prepare yourself for a packed day of presentations. Let me begin by asking the obvious question, which is, why are we all gathered together in the name of photographs, museums, libraries, and archives?
Well, the obvious answer is, as Ellen just explained, that we're responding to a photography initiative undertaken jointly by the Cornell library system and the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art. This initiative probes the ways in which the libraries' and the museum's respective collections, in this case specifically, collections of photographs, might interact together to the benefit of all users on campus and off.
This would include students and faculty, librarians and curators, artists and art historians, humanists and scientists, and anyone whose work and worldview depends in whole or in part on visual images. The undertaking is more complicated than it might sound since, as a rule, the museum collects individual objects and the library collects diverse bodies of research materials that may or may not include images in their midst.
There is, however, a more profound motive that underlies today's session. I have no exact statistics to back me up, but it occurs to me that we're fast approaching a point in human history when the total number of camera images existing in the world exceeds the number of books that have been published since Johannes Gutenberg's time. This includes images in museums and libraries but also in photo albums and shoeboxes, on hard drives, memory sticks, and stored on servers in the cloud. As Carl Sagan used to say when he taught at Cornell, there are billions and billions and billions of them. He was talking about stars.
This is rather remarkable since the printing press had a 400 year head start on photography. And photography itself is less than 200 years old. Perhaps we've already passed the point where photographs exceed books. And we can now look forward to the day that the number of photographs will surpass the number of words that ever have been written. Perhaps this deserves to be called a paradigm shift.
Thus, when we talk about the archive, either theoretically or practically, we need to account for photography. And when we talk about photography, we need to find its meaning not only within the boundaries of a single image but also in its aggregate. In a sense, the aggregate is a more interesting proposition.
Painting and the rest of the visual arts have trained us to analyze and comprehend individual images. But other than looking at an artist's move or an ism like Impressionism as a single enterprise, we have few examples of tools for understanding large groups of images.
Can we imagine preparing a catalog resin A of the photographs of Garry Winograng, for example, that would include every exposure the man ever made on every 36 exposure roll of film he ever shot of which there were thousands left undeveloped at his death? Would anyone ever possibly be interested in undertaking such a task, much less buying a book or looking at them all online? Maybe.
Whereas in Walter Benjamin's time, it was germane to focus on photography's reproducibility, today, it seems more appropriate to interrogate its fecundity. One aspect of this, particularly of interest to postmodern artists, is the medium's creation of an image world or simulacrum that is to reality what alternative facts are to facts. This was Susan Sontag's fundamental quarrel with the medium that she voiced in her book On Photography back in the '70s.
Another aspect is almost its opposite. By its abundance and omnipresence, photography allows us to discover a reality we might otherwise have missed. This can have consequences both good and bad.
The Black Lives Matter movement, propelled by citizen videos of police shootings, fits into the former category. The surveillance state, in which our every location is tracked and recorded, begun as part of an anti-terrorist toolkit and now being implemented with unprecedented thoroughness by the Chinese government, fits the latter. Contemporary artists such as Joe [? Magid, ?] Trevor Paglen, and our first speakers today Mike Mandel and Chantal Zakari are interested in interrogating these unsettled uses of photography.
There's a substantial corpus of critical thought that underscores the current obsession with all things archival. Benjamin Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida all wrote extensively about archives as systems of knowledge. Closer to the present, the critic and artist Alan Sekula specifically addressed the conditions of photographic archives as instruments of social control in essays such as The Body and the Archive.
Benjamin Buchloh has written about Gerhard Richter's Atlas as an archive that explicates photography's historical functions, and how Foster has loaded an archival impulse in the work of Tacita Dean, Thomas Hirschhorn, Sam Durant, Douglas Gordon, and others. I would add to Foster's list of essential contemporary artists engaged with archives the names of Sophie Calle and Walid Raad, and one could go on and on.
For librarians and archivists, the issues are more pragmatic than aesthetic or philosophical. How do we decide what images are worth preserving for future generations, knowing that not all of them qualify? And how do we best organize the ones we save to give them their best chance of being used, which is to say, of being seen?
Absent the kind of recognition software that allows me to open my phone, how do the images get cataloged in categories of language that might illuminate their presence without shutting a window on their possible interpretations? Strikes me that these decisions are essentially curatorial in nature, which is why all of the participants in today's proceedings who work in archives and libraries also wear hats as curators.
So with that tidbit of a preview of what is to come, let me sketch out the organization and order of the day. The day kicks off with Mike Mandel and Chantal Zakari, who I've just mentioned, who will talk about the artwork they've done separately and together that both exploits and reflects on the photographic archive. In Mike's case, this interest in archives dates back to the 1970s, which I hope will dispel the notion that the phenomenon is strictly a consequence of 21st century digital image making.
Next, we'll hear from Julia Van Haaften, author and distinguished founding curator of the New York Public Library's photography department. As a librarian, she uncovered the existence of troves of valuable photographs lurking within the library's collection, and led the charge to recognize them as worth conserving.
Her activities in this regard became the subject of critic Douglas Crimp's much assigned essay, "The Museum's Old/The Library's New Subject." I'm sure she'll have something to say on that subject, as well as helping us to understand some of the changes that have occurred in the past half century in how we organize photographs within institutions.
After a one-hour break for lunch, we'll hear from two active members of what I want to call a new generation of curator archivists whose work involves tending archives in ways that radically expand their usefulness to present-day users. Dominique Luster is the Charles Teenie Harris archivist at the Carnegie Museum of Art, which in itself is telling. Most museums employee curators as the interface between their collections and the public, not archivists.
Pauline Vermare is the curatorial director of Magnum Photos, the legendary picture agency, whose work primarily as a curator of exhibitions drawn from photographer's archives, including those of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa. Both speakers will share their novel and innovative approaches to working in an archive.
The rest of the afternoon will be devoted to hearing the stories of photographers whose work now constitutes an archival gold mine within the Cornell University Library. Anthony Barboza, perhaps best known for his portraits of jazz musicians, and for being a leading member of the Kamoinge Workshop, an historically important cooperative of African-American photographers based in New York; Larry Clark, the photographer of the books Tulsa and Teenage Lust, and the director of Kids and other films, some controversial; and Joe Conzo, Jr, pioneering photographer of the hip hop scene in the Bronx in the 1970s.
Sadly I have to mention Joe is unable to join us today, but we're fortunate to hear about his work from Johan Kugelberg, an important independent curator and preserver of the past, who was instrumental in bringing the works of both Joe and Larry to Cornell's Kroch library. Johan will also be leading the conversation with Larry Clark.
Each presentation and discussion will be followed by a response period led by a stellar cast representing Cornell's faculty, museum, and library. They are faculty members Andrew Moisey and Bill Gaskins, Katie Addleman-Frankel, the Gary and Ellen Davis Curator of Photography at the Johnson Museum of Art, and Katherine Reagan, Assistant Director for Collections and the Ernest L. Stern Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts of the Carl A. Kroch Library's Rare and Manuscripts Collection. I'd like to see her card with all that on it.
They will no doubt have questions of their own, and they will also moderate questions from the audience. So everyone here will have a chance to participate. I should also mention that the proceedings are being recorded and livestreamed, so everyone here also has a chance to become an internet meme if they choose.
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In this segment: Welcome by Ellen Avril, curator of Asian Art at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art; Introduction by Andy Grundberg '69.
"Images Objects Archives: The Multiple Lives of Photographs" featured artists, archivists, and curators actively involved with photographic archives discussing important issues regarding the selection, use, contextualization, and interpretation of photographs. They addressed how specific photographs acquire added meaning in the company of others, how photographic archives serve a variety of users and audiences, why the photographic archive as an idea has become central to the practices of contemporary art, and how the collection and presentation of traditional archives differs from that of today’s digital image recording.
This symposium was organized by Andy Grundberg '69 and Kate Addleman-Frankel, the Gary and Ellen Davis Curator of Photography at Cornell, and generously supported by the Melissa ’85 and Matthew Rubel Family Fund for Photography, Education, and Engagement. It is held in conjunction with “Crossing the Photographic Divide: Mining and Making Meaning,” a collaborative initiative between the Johnson and Cornell University Library, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.