Tag Archives: editing

My Photographic Archives- What to Do With Them? (Part 3)

I decided to do some research on the nature and purpose of photographic archives recently, and came upon a blog post titled “What Does a Photograph Archivist Do?” by Marguerite Roby, the photographic archivist for the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

In it, she described her job as follows: “The images that make up the collection in my particular care are memories of artifacts, exhibits, events, and people that tell the story of this institution. To me, memories are like undeveloped film. They become useless when they are not articulated or developed in a way that makes them meaningful to an audience. Memories are also prone to distortion over time, so it’s paramount to record them so that the stories they tell become a resource for future generations… It is my job to see to the preservation of the physical images as well to capture and preserve the meaning behind them so they remain relevant over time.”

That’s one of the best explanations I have found for why archives exist. They serve to keep the record straight for future generations. They provide context for those people in the future who seek to understand the past. They provide a connection to who and what has gone before. And from that standpoint, it doesn’t matter if you are someone as important in their field as Bob Dylan, or someone whose name will never be known to the masses. Everyone plays a role in the fabric of life, and preserving those stories is important.

I also came across a list of criteria to consider when thinking about what to include in an  archive:

  1. The purpose of the archive
  2. The uniqueness of an item
  3. The quality of an item
  4. The amount of documented information about an item that is available
  5. Whether an item is too private or personal to include

Those points can help serve as guidelines to answering some of the questions that I have had about archiving my artwork, and the best place to start is to try figure out what the purpose of my archives would be.

My Photographic Archives- What to Do With Them? (Part 2)

My last post addressed the fact that I have been thinking a lot lately about what will happen to my photographs after I am gone. I have not come to any firm conclusions yet, so stay tuned.

But there was an article in the New York Times recently about Bob Dylan’s archives which interested me. It didn’t provide me with any potential solutions to my own problem, but it was great food for thought.

The Dylan archive, which was recently acquired by a group of institutions in Oklahoma, consists of over 6,000 items which include lyrics, notebooks, correspondence, recordings, films and photographs. Apparently no one had known prior to this that his archives were so extensive, and the Times’ article discusses what a treasure trove it will be for researchers:

“With voluminous drafts from every phase of Mr. Dylan’s career, the collection offers a comprehensive look at the working process of a legendarily secretive artist. … The range of hotel stationary suggests an obsessive self-editor in constant motion.”

Apparently, the archives were formed by simple accumulation over the years, and then placed in storage. Dylan eventually hired an archivist, who started the process of organizing everything before it was offered for sale.

One of the most intriguing questions posed by the article was whether other rock artists of the 60’s and 70’s will follow in Dylan’s footsteps when it comes to their archives. Jon Landau, Bruce Springsteen’s manager, noted “the disconnect between the needs of professional archivists and the culture of rock in the 1960’s. “Was anyone sitting around worrying about this kind of thing back then?”, he said. “We were living in the era of ‘Hope I die before I get old.'” It’s my guess that very few of the giants of rock from that era would have such an extensive collection of items as Bob Dylan has. And I wonder how many artists from all media think about something like this?

Finally, the article mentions that, despite the large volume of items that make up his archive, it reveals very little about Dylan the man that is not already known. Since Dylan is known for being obsessively private, that does not surprise me. It makes me wonder if he edited out anything that referred to his personal life so that it would never see the light of day.

All of this brings up the question of what exactly would be valuable to include in one’s archive. In my case, just “final” photographs that were published or exhibited? All of my negatives and contact sheets and RAW digital files with nothing edited out? Technical notes? Work prints? Correspondence with galleries, curators, museums, fellow artists? Personal journals? Bob Dylan is a seminal artist in his field, who has influenced his medium in profound ways. I am not such an artist in my field. It makes sense to me that what would be included in a valuable archive of an artist of Dylan’s stature would be quite different from what would be included in mine. But…. maybe not?

The question of what to include is an challenging one because it of course means that you would be editing the items, unless you were to include absolutely everything you ever created or did. And in editing the items, you would be creating a specific picture of yourself as an artist that might be different than the one others would get if left unedited.

And, if you are not a Bob Dylan or an Ansel Adams or a Sally Mann, then who are you creating an archive for? Where would it be housed? Who would have  access to it? Who would be interested in it? Why create one at all?

So many questions, and so few answers, at least for now.

More Thoughts on Editing

I am currently in the midst of editing down a large number of photographs into a coherent series. It is an overwhelming task at times, as the sheer volume of images (about 1,300 to be specific) can’t be dealt with all at once. This is something that will take time, as my goal is to end up with between 35-70 pictures total. I find that it really helps to edit in small doses, and taking a lot of breaks helps. Sometimes I need to step away from the work for a couple of days in order to recover from the visual overload.

DSC_0225But editing, as I’ve written before, is so important to my creative process that I would never dream of hurrying it up. This was brought home to me when I read an article titled “The Creative Process” in the July/August, 2014 issue of The Atlantic magazine. In it, creative people in a range of fields were asked about “the inspiration and evolution of their work.” The whole article was very interesting, but the section that featured short story author Lydia Davis was downright fascinating.

Davis, who won the Man Booker International Prize in 2013, described what her life was like in the fall of 1973 and how she approached her writing early in her career. There followed the first draft of one of the stories she wrote at that time, “In a House Besieged”:

“In a house besieged lived a man and a woman, with two dogs and two cats. There were mice there too, but they were not acknowledged. From the kitchen where they cowered in the man and woman heard small explosions. “The wind,” said the woman. “Hunters,” said the man. “Smoke,” said the woman. “The army,” said the man. The woman wanted to go home, but she was already at home, there in the middle of the country in a house besieged, in a house that belonged to someone else.”

And then appeared the final draft:

“In a house besieged lived a man and a woman. From where they cowered in the kitchen the man and woman heard small explosions. “The wind,” said the woman. “Hunters,” said the man. “The rain,” said the woman. “The army,” said the man. The woman wanted to go home, but she was already home, there in the middle of the country in a house besieged.”

What grace the final version has! What clarity, what elegance. Proof positive that excellent editing can strengthen the fruits of one’s creative labors. In the final draft, there are no extraneous words that could distract from the message of the whole. Davis has cut out unnecessary details so that the point of the piece is more easily comprehended. The final version causes the reader to ask questions about what the implications of the story are, instead of answering every question the reader might have had. When editing, what is excluded often determines the strength and meaning of what is included.

And that is exactly the task at hand for me in my editing work. Exactly how many photographs need to be included in order for a sequence of pictures to be maximally strong? Which pictures should be included/excluded? What order should they be in? Those are the questions foremost on my mind as I work through the task at hand.