Recent Archives

Thursday, April 15th, 2010 - Nicholas Calcott

Women in bathing suit…
‘, from the University of Washington Flickr stream

Or rather, archives that I’ve recently come across.

The University of Washington continues to post selections from their archives on Flickr – They’re mostly photos of leisure activities in the North West in the 10s, 20s, and 30s (with alot of skiing and winter sports), but there are definitely some real gems, like the photo featured above. It makes me miss Washington State, actually.

Also, the London School of Economics has a kind-of-wonderful Flickr set from the 80s thats worth a browse if you like nerds. [via Photography Prison]

Also via Photography Prison, there’s a really really wonderful archive of African American photographs from the 1900 Paris Exposition.  In addition, Pete Brook just posted a link to Hidden From History: Unknown New Orleanians with some phenomenally interesting mug shots… And the UK National Archives.

Gerhard Richter also happens to have online 783 sheets of Atlas, his archive of source material that was presented as a fascinating exhibition a few years ago.  I’m usually a bit dubious of collections whose supposed value is conferred upon them by the famous collector, but Atlas is a phenomenally interesting archive.


Friday, November 13th, 2009 - Nicholas Calcott

from The Past Tense of Pictures
Two memento mori from The Past Tense of Pictures

So, clearly I’ve been busy or otherwise I’d have been on here writing more. More soon, but to hold your attention a brief post pointing you towards The Past Tense of Pictures, a site by Jack and Beverly Wilgus (maybe the most adorable photo couple I’ve come across) that somehow found it’s way to my folder of links long enough ago that I forgot where I first saw it. It appears to be a private collection of daguerreotypes and other old photographs that functions as a low-tech stock photo site, and there are some real gems in there. Also, I really love the weird site design and unattractive brown borders – it seems to oddly fit the subject matter…

Check out also Bright Bytes, the mother site of past tense of pictures, that also has links to other strange photo related sites, like Not to Scale and A Collection of Collections.

Least Wanted

Friday, June 5th, 2009 - Nicholas Calcott

From Least Wanted‘s ‘Credentials‘ Flickr set.

A quick one today followed by a more extensive post Monday.  Sorry, but I just got back from North America and I’m hell of jetlagged.

Anyways, I stumbled across Least Wanted through the interestingly niche-y blog Prison Photography.  It’s a big collection of portraits in the form of ID photographs of various kinds, including, but not limited to, mugshots, hospital badges, FBI files of communists, medical files, and many others besides.  I won’t say too much about it, save that it’s well worth wading through the awkwardness that is an ID photograph in any context.


Tuesday, April 21st, 2009 - Nicholas Calcott

Taryn Simon, from ‘An American Index Of The Hidden And Unfamiliar

I had a friend in photo school who, for her thesis presentation, eschewed actully taking pictures and proceded to draw up obsessive charts of all of her relations with the things and people around her, which were then meticulously scrubbed of any identifying information or text.  When asked what she was doing, she explained that, for her, photography was a practice of obsessive cataloging, and in creating an artwork of obsession she was cutting out the middle-man that was the camera.

Although my friend clearly wasn’t capturing everything with her new method of ‘capturing pictures,’ she had succeeded in isolating an important element of photography.  Photography is an obsessive medium after all – We select certain elements and moments  and isolate them at the expense of all others.  The act of framing something is the same as pointing and saying “This is important.”  Photography is, naturally, an exercise in creating hierarchies in reality.

And so, it appeals to those of us with a natural predilection towards collecting.  We are not quite Langley Collyers – more like Victorian museums; venturing out to capture the notable things in the world and bring them home to arrange in picture frames on our walls, tucked away in albums on our shelves, or organized in folders on our desktops.  Photographers have noticed this.

This prediliction towards obsessive photographing is a handy tool for indexing reality, of course.  Besides some of the index projects mentioned elsewhere on this blog, there are, of course, the more functional indexes of police files, surveys, and anthropological cross sections.  These would all be shodows of themselves without the descriptive power of photography, and photographic history is irreperably tied to these uses by power.  ‘Evidence‘ is, of course, a classic play on this.

But the classic index has always been tied to the real world limitations of size, space, and cost.  Indices are now spreading out, creeping out from the square vertical index of the filing cabinet to an amorphous tag-cloud thingy.  Will photography spread too, or will it keep the right angle limitations of a book, a gallery, a flat file?


Thursday, April 9th, 2009 - Nicholas Calcott

Nicholas Calcott

So is the internet – the internet of objects, designs, creativity, cataloguing and chronicling – merely a modern day cast court or print room? All ‘work’ is reduced and resized, hung on the same gallery walls and given the same passing glance, the glancing perusal of the perpetually scrolling museum. Just as the dense clusters of imagery that marked early museums contrasted strongly with the more open, expansive, curated galleries that subsequently evolved, the internet of objects appears increasingly at odds with the internet of connectivity and expanded human horizons. How will we deal with the growing distinction between cabinets within rooms within corridors within buildings within streets within cities?

-From Things Magazine of March 11th, 2009

Yes, Another Archive…

Monday, February 2nd, 2009 - Nicholas Calcott

N 1572 Bild-1925-052
From the German Federal Archives

I know this sometimes seems like I post archives alot these days, I really can’t help it. It’s not even that I really prefer historical photographs over contemporary ones (I don’t) – it’s just that I love wading through thousands of images. I suppose the same instincts of obsessive collection and categorization that got me into photography in the first place are the same ones that lead me to spend so much time sifting through digital dumps of images.

Most of all, though, it’s a really really good time to be into online archives. I guess bandwidths are sufficiently high now, and digitizing projects are sufficiently far advanced to justify placing all of these images online. In addition, there is the rise of Flickr and other ways of organizing images online, buzzwordy ‘crowdsourcing‘ phenomenon, and the Creative Commons and intellectual property movements, all of which have culminated in what seems to be a golden age of online image archives.

If you want further proof, simply check out the ARCHIVE category on this blog – Though, in future, I’ll refrain from wasting so many posts on individual archives. I’ll try and save the archives I come across up and give you posts with several of them at once, thereby not wasting so many posts and creating the skew of this blog to things historical.

That being said, I can’t help but push one more archive in your laps: The German Federal Archives has just uploaded 100,000 images onto Wikimedia Commons (which is itself a phenomenal archive). They. Are. Awesome. They include things as varied as aerial reconnaissance photography immediately preceding WWII to bureaucratic councils (East and West Germany) to industrial production to records of historical events such as Weimar politics, the rise of Hitler (some of which you could well see in Nein, Onkle), and the Berlin Wall falling to just about anything German or Germany related. Spend some time. Some serious time. There’s an intro page (as well as a small gallery of selections) as well as an index by category, but I recommend diving into the uncategorized section, where one may find the lions-share of the collection. It’s worth noting that, unfortunately, almost all of the captions are entirely in German.


Tuesday, January 27th, 2009 - Nicholas Calcott

[Logging : felled trees] from the NYPL’s Canadiana collection.

I spent a couple hours today searching through the New York Public Librairy’s digitized collection. There’s alot of stuff in there, including an entire sub-collection dedicated to Canadiana. Take a look.

Europa Film Treasures

Saturday, January 24th, 2009 - Nicholas Calcott

Robinet Boxeur
A still from the Italian film, Robinet Boxeur

A little off topic, but well worth a look: The Europa Film Treasures archive is a collaboration of film archives from all over Europe. It’s a big grab bag of European films, from a wide range of years, but a lot of fun to wander through. Kind of like Ubu Web, but less self-conciously avant-garde. Go take a look – They’re adding films all the time.


Sunday, December 14th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

‘Unidentified Prisoner’

That last post made me think of a photo project that I think is one of the most heart-wrenching ever assembled. I speak of the photographs assembled at S-21 in Cambodia, a Khmer Rouge prison during the infamous ‘Killing Fields‘ period. After the Khmer Rouge fell, the prison was converted into the Tuol Seng Museum of Genocide (the site of which remains the best place online to view the photographs in question), where, in an old cabinet, the photographers Chris Riley and David Niven discovered 6000 6 x 6 negs of various prisoners, most of whom were eventually tortured and killed. This work went on to be published in book form and displayed in an exhibition at Moma (a healthy dose of dystopianism at an institution dedicated to the modernist project, itself sharing uncomfortable commonalities with totalitarian systems). Go ahead and visit the site of Tuol Seng if you feel like wandering around all day with circles under your eyes and a worried, anxious look.

Follow Ups

Thursday, November 6th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Walker Evans. Shorpy’s, btw, is a great resource for depression photos

William Eggleston’s Whitney retrospective opens tomorrow. Hence, the publicity blitz. In addition to the W article I nitpicked with earlier, Time‘s Richard Lacayo conducted a much meatier interview with him (split over several posts; here, here, and here) as well as a review. From the review:

Eggleston also doesn’t like the term snapshot aesthetic, but from early on, just like Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander, he’s been making pictures that are brilliantly open to the flotsam of the visible world, the little accidents of vision and oddball details that snapshots automatically gather up. He is fascinated by American junk-space, the banal stretches of tract housing and strip malls. But there’s nothing camp or ironic about Eggleston’s work. The power of his pictures rests on their casual but absolute sincerity, their conviction that small is beautiful. There’s something very American about this, a valorization of the commonplace, carried to a level of intensity that can curl your toes. Looking at his picture of a soda bottle simply perched on the hood of a car, you can’t help thinking of what Henry James once wrote about Nathaniel Hawthorne: “The minuteness of the things that attract his attention, and that he deems worthy of being commemorated, is frequently extreme.”

Also, I’m going to promise from now on not to crow over the continuing dismal news from the auction houses. I know, I know, it’s a bad sign, but I view art as rather inevitable, so I don’t see any real harm in the deflating of this speculative bubble… Still, though, I can’t help linking one last thing: AFC has a round up of recent news and speculation.

Also, I’m gonna be on vacay for a few days. Updates next week, as well as the beginning of Paris Photo.