Photographs of the Photo Archive

On the invitation of the Fotomuseum of the Province of Antwerp, I made a proposal for an exhibition of a selection from the museum‘s vast photo archive.
This photo archive, like almost all other photo archives, is built on analogue photography. Besides showing my personal choice, I want to say something about the phenomenon of photo archives and their analogue origins. I am curious as to how a photo museum may reflect on the photography that is the foundation of its existence. This is why I want to explore a form of presentation that eludes directly and the photo archive, on conservation and on giving back to the world.

The Plan
In the exhibition are black envelopes containing images of the exhibited selection printed on Printing Out Paper, otherwise known as daylight paper. This is a self developing type of photographic paper that darkens when exposed to daylight. Visitors to the exhibition can take an envelope home with them. They are then faced with a choice: they can choose to keep seeing the photograph, but the price they pay is that the image will disappear under the influence of daylight. Or, they may choose to conserve the image: the image stays hidden in the dark, presenting itself only as a mental image in the owners’ memory.
In my view this plan refers to photography and archives in two different ways.
On the one hand, there is time. Photography only became photography when the image was no longer only visible on a paper carrier but could also be fixated in time. I imagine how, in the years before the inventions of Niépce, researchers like Thomas Wedgwood must have looked on in frustration as their photographic representations slowly but irrevocably disappeared before their eyes. As if their invention had never existed. The entire project of photography was aimed at holding on to the projected image. Just like this particular photo archive it was aimed at conservation.
This plan was the daylight paper takes the opposite direction.

On the other hand there is the reproduction, one of photography’s essential qualities. In this archive, the photo has become vintage, a singularity. The photographs in this archive has been withdrawn from public life and their circulation has been slowed down, if not halted altogether. From being originally — especially in the times when many of the photographs preserved here were taken — a non-museological medium that permeated all sections and places in society, these photographs have been sentenced to lead a life of retirement. And now they are once more offered to the world. Now, within a different context, they can acquire new meaning and — by their disappearing — reveal something about analogue photography.