Category Archives: 15 The archive

Exercise: Recording

The Brief:

Record a real conversation with a friend. (It’s up to you whether you ask permission or not!)

Before listening to the recording, write your account of both sides of the conversation.

Then listen to the recording and make notes of the discrepancies. Perhaps there are unfinished sentences, stammers, pauses, miscommunications etc.

Reflect on the believability of re-enacted narratives and how this can be applied to constructed photography. What do you learn from the conversation recording process and how can you transfer what you learned into making pictures?

I was not able to do this exercise as I have no tape recorder, and believe it or not, I do not have a cell phone either. However I do know from experience that I would have recorded a pretty accurate account, as I used to take verbatim minutes during collective bargaining with the BC government and the teachers’ union.

But this brief takes me back to a game we used to play in primary school. It was called “telephone”. We would gather a large group together and sit in a circle. One person would think up a sentence, then whisper it to the person on his/her right, who would then whisper the sentence to the person his right again and so on until the sentence arrived at the person who was seated to the left of the originator of the sentence. The final person would then say the sentence out loud and it was always funny to see how distorted the message had become. Miscommunication happens when words are not understood or pronounced properly. Accents can also affect communication.

I believe that photographic narratives can be re-enacted to be believable. We only have to look at Jeff Wall’s A Sudden Gust of Wind to see a successful re-enactment. I think the key to making a believable constructed photograph is to pay attention to the details. It’s the tiny details or lack thereof that will give the image away.  Proper planning is vital.

The only reality which counts in the end is the interpretation which is profound.

John Grierson

Reference List

Bate, David (2009) Photography: The Key Concepts. London: Bloomsbury


Zoe Leonard and Cheryl Dunye

We are instructed to look at Zoe Leonard and Cheryl Dunye’s collaborative project, The Fae Richards Photo Archive. The photographic narrative is about an African-American actress in the 1920’s named Fae Richards. What makes this project interesting is that Fae Richards is an entirely fictitious character. She is played by Cheryl Dunye and the narrative spans her entire “life”.  Leonard and Dunye’s objective with this fictitious narrative was to highlight the lack of information of the African-American lesbian community, as well as to question the truthfulness of our histories.  As the saying goes “To the victor the spoils” (and the right to rewrite history) which is very evident in my birth country of South Africa. The history that is now taught in the schools in South Africa is very different that which I learnt as a child. Who is included in our written histories rather depends on the ruling political party/regime or government of the day. Minorities and the defeated regimes tend to be written out of history in an attempt to wipe out any evidence of previous existence.

Repurposed narratives make us question the veracity of documented history and in so doing help to increase our understanding of the events.

I have a slew of my own photographic archives which could possibly be used in a project. I haven’t really given archives much thought previously to this assignment, but can see that it would be quite an interesting project to tackle.


Archives Creative Practice Zoe Leonard & Cheryl Dunye [online]. Birmingham City University. Available from: [Accessed 7 March, 2016]

Exercise: Question for Seller

Our course manual sends us off to look at Nicky Bird’s project Question for Seller, in order to explore a little into creating new meanings for old photographs. Bird was interested in family photos and purchased collections of photographs on eBay which intrigued her. She made a bid for the collections that no one else was interested and bought them. She always asked her sellers the following: ‘How did you come across the photos and what, if anything, do you know about them?’

She states that the sellers’ answers are quite revealing: some are simply getting rid of photos that don’t mean anything to them – their family history or relevance has been lost. She then exhibited the photographs in a gallery, hung them on the walls and featured them in an album. At the end of the exhibition the photographs were auctioned off with a starting price of 99p. The album was simultaneously auctioned off on eBay with the bidding closing on the same night.

Question for Seller re-situates images in a different context and in so doing allows for a new dialogue to take place. Reflect on the following in your learning blog:

Does their presence on a gallery wall give these images an elevated status?

  • Most definitely. These were photos that families no longer wanted. Their relevance was no longer felt within the family, or not even understood. Only one person was interested in purchasing the photos. Yet now these “throw-aways” are elevated to the highest echelon of “photographic society” by being exhibited in a gallery. The photographs hang on walls to be seen by many interested people.

Where does their meaning derive from?

  • Because the connotation of these photos is one of discarded and unloved items, viewers will tend to attach their own interpretations to these images, perhaps by relating to their own stash of photographic images that are tucked away in a shoe box somewhere in the attic, or by seeing something familiar in the images that triggers old memories. As Barthes (1980: 107) states: ‘Photography … authenticates the existence of a certain being, I want to discover that being in the photograph completely’.

When they are sold (again on eBay, via auction direct from the gallery) is their value increased by the fact that they’re now ‘art’?

  • Yes it is. During the original eBay auction the only bidder was Nicky Bird who probably paid very little for the photos. However, once exhibited in a gallery under the auspices of a well known photographer (Nicky Bird), the photographs took on an intrinsic value as opposed to just being old snapshots. Possibly there were no negatives that accompanied the photographs at the initial sale to Bird, so the photos would be limited editions as well.
Reference List

Barthes, Roland. (1980) Camera Lucida Reflections on Photography.  New York: Hill and Wang