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?