1.The handwritten ‘taxonomical’ archive
Many of the first photographic registers of the daily life and street types as well as of slaves and native populations in Brazil were made by foreigners, notably Albert Frisch, the first to enter the Amazon forest in 1867 with a camera, and Albert Henschel, famous for his portraits, usually in the carte de visite format, taken of the nobility, of rich tradesmen and of black people, either slaves or free, in a pre-abolitionism period.
most of the prints were given a short description, often hand written by the author. These inscriptions are a sort of taxonomical procedure, in which the subject is labeled according to his or her ethnical group, origin, occupation, etc.
In the description we read: Black female slave. Bahia; GERMAN PHOTOGRAPHY Alberto Henschel & Co. (…) THE PLATES WILL BE PRESERVED FOR REPRODUCTIONS; (…) Black- types; female slave partially born in Africa.
The plates were actually preserved and reproduced, not only in the form of physical prints exhibited worldwide until today but also as digital high-resolution files available online. The digitalisation of these plates have not only allowed an unforeseen circulation of their content but has also enabled us to zoom in and see details, gazes, extras, that the photographers themselves presumably weren’t able to see at the moment they shot the image.
2. From the analog archive into the ‘thesaurus era’
If you’re willing to find what you want, the online search engines are demanding.
Title, year, author, type, description, language, keywords, tags, etc. leads to a result.
A vague one. Or a specific one.
Search for “refugee portrait reuters”.
Choose an image.
Save image as.
It has a given name:
It is a .jpg.
Copy the cutline: Refugees from South Sudan look at a photo montage depicting the conflict in their country on a calendar at the Kyangwali refugee settlement in Hoima district in Uganda [Thomas Mukoya/[Reuters]. Now replace the given name for the cutline. It became a document.
The Name modifies the Kind. The Size remains the same, but whereas the image has a dimension, the document doesn’t. The inscription procedure used by the late XIXth century photographers was adopted by photojournalists since the term was coined. And today it defines the result of your search.
The project intends to make a comparison on how displaced populations are represented throughout the history of photography, from the first ethnographic registers made by europeans of natives and slaves in the early 20th century to today’s images of refugees worldwide.
I would like to discuss the roll of the text (or description, or cutline) accompanying the images of forcedly displaced individuals, which prejudices and racial biases are involved in this “taxonomical” process, and how these images are classified, sorted and archived.
Using different techniques, from early albumin prints (the technique mostly used in photography’s earliest days to portrait slaves and natives) to acrylic glass prints, I’ve tried to give the digital images of displaced populations in the 21st century available online a physical materiality as a form to preserve them as objects which can be reproduced in a distant future, embodying a sort of ‘immortality’ particular of these analog techniques and giving the pixelated .jpgs an afterlife beyond their digital ephemerality.