Repertoire and quality over “keeping everything”

I found really interesting the readings of this week, mostly because I realized how my own ideas of archiving and “preservation” are related to a colonial construction and to a written culture, though I am from a country that suffers exactly from that and also has a strong embodied culture (Brazil). Diana Taylor’s and Foucault’s texts made me think about History classes I had during my school years, when our Brazilian history was taught from its “beginning”, which was considered the year of 1500 when the country was “discovered” by the Portuguese. It was only at the end of high school that we had a professor including indigenous history and indigenous culture in our History class, as before that we learned about that in Geography class only as a cultural aspect of Brazilian society, but not as a Historical aspect.

Besides, indigenous (or should I say native?) repertoire is present in our language, food, music body language, but when we discuss it with other people it is mostly to talk about what we can document, thus, archive. Because many of its culture and knowledge are unfortunately really disappearing, I believe the “archival impulse” has an important aspect in “archiving” it. But, as Taylor points out, there are probably other ways to ensure the permanence of this repertoire respecting their system of organization and transmission, therefore leaving the “archive fever” aside. In this regard, Tara Robertson’s discussion about what to show, how to give access and how to organize archives is really relevant, as, again, we (and I include myself) tend to believe that there is only one correct and efficient method of archiving as well as one “place” to keep knowledge.

In this connection, Pierre Nora’s concepts of “lieux” and “milieux de mémoire” and Taylor’s opinion regarding the polarization of these concepts, as well as the polarization of history and memory, makes me believe there are ways to transmit knowledge and culture that can prevent or at least reduce the maintenance of a repressive social order. This includes trying to break the rational tendency of dividing and polarizing knowledge and though. Furthermore, reducing our anxiety to save everything, being able to acknowledge that an ethical and well discussed procedure of archiving is more important, might be an interesting path to take. Quality more than quantity.

archives for the apocalypse and for digital media

The readings from this week made me realize two very different paths that seems to be happening with the use and conception of archive and media storage nowadays. As the text “Arks of Apocalypse” explains, we are living in the Anthropocene epoch, meaning that we know we are destroying our ecosystems so we are trying to save everything we can, creating the many repositories places around the world (repositories of seeds, animals, ice) in the last years. On the other hand, the internet and the digital media have been changing the idea of the archive. The archival media memory is, as Wolfgang Ernst reveals, intrinsically related to a time-based organization instead of a spatial one, becoming what he calls “de-monumentalized”.

It seems that these repositories places are the current stronger example of archive in the “traditional” sense, meaning a process of choosing what to preserve (and what not to) with a place to carefully storage everything, in which access is not easy (physically and bureaucratically), and in which there is a very linear and written-based order to organize, whereas the internet and the digital media is more like an anarchive, with no specific place and in which discontinuity and ephemerality are part of. The first one gives us a feeling of stability that can save all we need (in an unstable world) while the second is a “constant dynamic flow of information” in which we have to deal with absence (p. 110).

I wonder why these two almost opposite processes are happening at the same time and how can one give the other any “release” of their own processes.

Application Presentation

Application Presentation

Photo Collection


I chose this funny picture (01) to start: it is the first camera ever made (photographed by the second one ever made), at least this is what is says on the website I got it. I found it funny because of the size and because, somehow, the machine and its materiality stand out more than people.

One point that I found very interesting in the readings is the fact that, since the beginning of photography, the issue of archive was part of its production.

There’s an example on John Tagg’s text, which is the stereograph (02), [this double picture that you need to use a specific “viewer”, called the stereoscope, to see the picture.]

The stereograph had a peak of popularity around 1859 and Oliver Wendell Holmes, an American physician, foresaw that this proliferation would create big collections that would need a form of classification and organization in libraries.

Also, it created the necessity of a piece of furniture that would make the storage of them possible, in an organized way – thus the creation of the file cabinet (03), which is this furniture on our left, with the drawer open.



Like the stereograph, the same situation happened with photography since its beginning. Bertillon (04), French director of the identification bureau of the Paris prefecture of Police, was the inventor of the first system for cataloging and retrieving of photographic records (05).

He had to organize the pictures of criminals and suspects in a way that would be easy to work and access, becoming easy to identify people and connect them to see if they had similar expressions and characteristics.

Besides organizing the photos, he also developed a system for criminal identification (06), based on photos. He used what we called today the mug shot along with detailed pictures of parts of the face, based in five primary measurements, such as the head length, the length of the middle finger, the length of the left foot.

I found interesting how he was able to create two systems of classification, one of people (07) (suspects) and one of photos and documents about them. Here is a “class” (08) he gave to explain his system for criminal identification.



Another interesting aspect about these systems of photo classification is the fact that, many times, the method of classification create what Elizabeth Edwards says as a passive resource, in which photos are assembled regardless of their deep meaning, just like a neutral document.

For instance, the creation of the modern vertical file (09) in 1892, like this one, made possible the organization of photos using the decimal system of classification.

But the use of this system and placement made photo collection more related to the machinery of the archive (10) than to the machinery of the camera. Again, as Foucault is cited in Tagg’s text, the space of the file is the space of a disciplinary machine.



Jumping from this date to the 1970s, but somehow still related to the commandment aspect of the archive (Foucault), I would like to talk a little bit about the NYPL Photography Archive (11), here is the home page of the now digital collection.

And this is the second point I would like to discuss about the readings.

This archive was created in 1977 by the librarian Julia van Haaften. This photography archive was “discovered” by her when she, somehow, looked into the library collection in a different way, seeing another possible organization / order, in an archive where a system of organization was not “promoting” photography. NYPL Photo Archive (12)

It’s also around this time, a little bit early, that photography started to be used in artistic works, such as Robert Rauschenberg paintings with photos (13).

So, there is a change of status in the photography work. Related to the art work, but especially to the archival process.

Photography was switching from being only a document related to another form or file, a document that would give information, to an art piece, which its aesthetic force. It also started promoting the photographer (the artist, the author). NYPL Photo Archive (14)

[ MoMA Collection already had a department of photography since 1940, which also helped this inclusion of “photography as a form of artistic expression on an equal footing with the other arts” (Thomas Weski, cited in Anne Sophie Springer text) ]


Which goes back to Elizabeth Edwards’ text when she talks about the possibility of the photo archive to become an active resource, with historical and creative force. NYPL Photo – Weegee (15). Citing her text on page 55

Weegge, who was a criminal photographer – something very related to information and objective documentation that, pretty obviously gained more meaning when viewed in a photo collection.

However, Douglas Crimp’s text says that though photo status changed, their way of being archived are still very related to the traditional matrix of curating: organized by genre and chronology, based on its acquisition or other “archiving” aspects. The Grain of the Present – exhibition of ten – (16)

So again, the space of the file (now, the photo) is the space of a disciplinary machine and I wonder which ways of classification can break this.

And if the photo acquired this new meaning, the aesthetic aspect of it (cited in Douglas Crimp’s text), wouldn’t be possible to think in new forms of archiving that would be less technical or information-based, and more “synesthetic”?



These questions led me to remember a photo collection I saw at the New Museum’s exhibition last year called “The Keeper” (17)

It was a collection created by Wilson A. Bentley (American) (18) in the end of the nineteenth century and called the Snow Crystal Collection (19). Starting in 1885, he photographed and collected information about snowflakes during 47 years of his life. He was able to create an apparatus that consisted of a combination of camera and microscope.

Here is one of the photos (photo snowflake – 20)

I’m using this example because I found very interesting how the original motivation was very scientific (21), thus a documentation of nature, and, even though he was fascinated by the beauty of each snowflake (22), he didn’t consider himself an artist.

But I believe that because of the powerful photo collection he created, his work went to museum (photo newspaper 23) and gained somehow an artistic status, related to the aesthetic experience. Read second paragraph of the newspaper.

His collection was acquired by the Buffalo Museum of Science in 1947 (he was already dead). The digital library was created in 2004 by Dr. June Abbas and graduate students from the University at Buffalo’s Department of Library and Information Science.

I also find this photo collection interesting because each snowflake is unique (24) and very ephemeral, so I it’s also maybe a good metaphor of the archiving process and the photo collection as cognitive artefacts in their production and reception.

Photos 25 and 26 – more snowflakes





“Counterarchives” and the aesthetic aspect of photography

I found very interesting how photography, since its origins with the stereograph and other formats, had “the issue of the archive”. As already discussed in other classes, we often think that the problem of excess of data / documents / material is only a question of our time, however John Tagg’s text presents the fascinating discussion around the mass production of stereographs in 1859. Thus, classification and organization of photographs and stereographs were since the beginning an issue to be solved, and the handbook The Camera as Historian represents this issue very well. It does so, mainly because it shows how every choice of classification system reveals its power relations, social rules and, as Tagg says (inspired by Foucault) “the space of the file is the space of disciplinary machine”.

With this in mind, it was a great discovery for me to think about the idea of “counterarchives”. Though the commandment aspect is intrinsically part of any archive, the idea that “forgotten” or “lost” archives have the power to create a new narrative about society, especially the ones that suffered from a regime of terror, made me realize how important each archive is in relation to the discussion of truth. The fact that “Archives still retain, therefore, a particular and perhaps privileged relation to the field of truth…” is an engaging form to relate with archives, and it improves the discussion about History and narration. Yet, it was not very clear to me what the author meant with the statement that “archive cannot be taken over but has to be smashed.” I understand his concern about the danger of using archives in the study of history as an element of real truth, however the idea of “smashing” was not clear (maybe an English issue for me?)

Finally, I would like to add a comment about Douglas Crimp’s text concerning photography collection and the NYPL case. I found very interesting how, when Julia van Haaften started organizing the photography collection in 1977, photography “changed” its role, gaining autonomy from the document / archive / subject it was coming from, and embodying an aesthetic element. Thus, becoming art. When the author gives the example of Cartier-Bresson’s photographs that would not only represent the information in the photo, but also the expression of an artist, I ask to myself: if each photo has this “double” aspect (information and artistic intension or interpretation), how should we organize them? If until now photography has usually been classified through author’s name, date or subject, would it be possible to create a classification related to the aesthetic experience? If so, which “elements” of the artistic interpretation would be used? And then, after all, wouldn’t these topics of organization also reveal its apparatus?

Circular Logistics

I was really impressed and inspired by Warburg’s library organization and thoughts, especially because every time I had to organize my books at my very small personal library, it was a challenge to figure out which way would be the best: by author’s name? Country? By subject? Or the order I wanted to read? After many thoughts and no decision, the books were somehow organized in an unorganized way between a rational and a subjective orderliness. Warburg’s organization was very well thought and structured one, but had a very subjective side related to our daily memory organization and connections. In relation to that, his library was circular and the circle is very symbolic for a never-ending form of knowledge. Thus, a circular library gave his method of organization another mnemosyne dimension, as “(…) his library was memory, but ‘memory as organized matter’.” (p.201).

Prelinger’s Library has also a “circular order” in is organization through the idea of serendipity, in which we have the opportunity to become flaneurs in our own discovery. It gives the feeling of an infinity of connections, just like the connections we make in our head. Besides, the complementary relation between digital access and analog browsing also made me think about this circular dimension, in which one aspect is connected to the other and vice-versa.

On that account, it was even more powerful to read about the BookOps and the ReCAP, and also to watch “Cold Storage” about the Harvard Depository. Being part of the library infrastructure and logistic, and with the necessity of efficient storage and retrieval, its organization has to be rational. Therefore, everything is more “square” than “circular” in its organization. I wonder if, with the increasing number of books that need to be storage, there’s a way to still create an efficient logistic that is less money-space-time focused, giving “off-site” storages a more circular aspect.

If books are and have to be “a thing on a shelf” in those places, is there a way to better connect them with “a topical and material unit of knowledge” that they are in the libraries? Is there a circular logistic able to keep receiving all the number of books and still maintain this landscape a real discovery experience for human knowledge?



Not directly related to this week discussion, but very close to that, Wisemen film “Ex Libris” about the New York Public Library is a great reflexion on what libraries are and mean nowadays, focusing on their role in the society and in how “far” this role is, as books are not the main element of them anymore. A must-see!

Archive in Brazil’s dictatorship history: an example of the commandment aspect

After reading about the archaeologies of the archives and visiting the New York City Municipal Archives, I realized how important those institutions and places are, but also how the commandment aspect, cited by Derrida’s “Archive Fever”, plays a crucial role.

It made me think about the history and archive infrastructure in my own country, Brazil. As Manoff says “… the archives anchors exploration of national identity and provide the evidence for establishing the meaning of the past.” (“Theories of the Archive from Across the Disciplines”, p.16) During the years of 1964 and 1985 a dictatorship took place in Brazil. Nowadays, after 27 years of democracy, some social, political and historical aspects are still not clear and well discussed.

This situation is definitely related to the way this moment of history was archived, thus remembered: many files from the dictatorship are still missing nowadays, as government and military institutions didn’t give all of them to the Public Archives, even after a “Truth Commission” (Comissão da Verdade) was established in 2011 to further investigate all human violations that happened during those years. Also, many files related to the Brazilian dictatorship are “missing” (were probably destroyed), leaving “gaps” that helped executioners to remain free after their judgments, because there was not enough proof.

As Derrida points out, the methods in which information is transmitted and communicated determines what becomes knowledge and what is forgotten. Controlling of archival is a political power. Hence, it controls our memory. Is it possible to see this in Brazil, where there’s still people that don’t really acknowledge the existence of a dictatorship that killed thousands of people in the past.

In addition to the archival processing in Brazil, some street names still keep executioner names, whereas many people who were killed never had their bodies found and remain “disappeared”. As a reaction to that, some NGOs and social organizations are trying to put new names in new streets of the city with those who were killed.

If the archive is a registration of history from a particular perspective, it is also important to pay attention to other types or “archiving processes” such as the example above. In Brazil, I’m more and more convinced that those “non-official” forms of archives are essential to establish the meaning of the past, hoping that they will enhance the notion of archive as a choice’s procedure and enable a deeper discussion of those choices.