36 Related Objects
To the ear there is no difference. To the eye it is only slight. In sense, though, the words evoke incommensurate worlds. Bite-size is small, byte-size no size at all.
The 36 objects here are related. Relations. Kin. You can see the resemblances. They are members of the same family, a big family, spread across East and West and on both sides of the Iron Curtain. This book is a family album—a family album of analogue equipment, photographed by analogue equipment.
The photographers would record a collection of recording devices. They would document objectively a world of objects. And they fail. Their images do not describe so much as portray. These are family portraits, their subjects evidently related to each other. And to the instruments recording their relations. The photographs are of the same family as what is in them. The objects are too close to the camera and the film, too familiar, to be framed neutrally. All but one have been part of the photographers’ practice. All but two have fallen out of use. The discipline here is portraying superseded technology in superseded technology.
To our eyes, the difference is (like the bite of a byte) barely perceptible. The world has changed, and our non-practitioners’ eyes have hardly noticed. But that difference is exactly what is on display.
Analogue (here the still camera, the motion-picture camera, and the tape recorder) is 19th-century technology—technology that offered analogues of sights and sounds far better than any before it. The photograph provided an analogue of the world in front of the camera, an analogue of the visible in which the means themselves were visible. We have all held a negative (film, glass, even paper) to the light and intuited the process of the analogue image’s creation.
With digital technology there is no such intuition. The memory card no longer bears a sight. It elicits no memories before our eyes. However perfect and capacious, its “memory” is memory only by analogy. Digital technology is less an analogue of the world than an analogue of analogue. And it must be a good analogue, for without practice we do not see the difference.
The photographs here allow us to practise seeing the difference. The subjects float, fill, crowd, hang, are vulnerable. We wonder what each (and its type) has seen, overheard, witnessed. In some cases—almost stills from animated sequences—we wonder what it will do or say next. Together the objects display their character as things. And the character of things as such. Things seen by other things, fellow things.
The digital, on the other hand, offers nothing of this world of things. It has lost touch with the finger—and the origin of the word “digital” in the Latin digitus.
In 36 images—a roll of film or a set of Hokusai prints—we are seeing a record of a lost world, a world that did not know it was a world and finite. A world that cannot believe itself lost. It was their world—these objects’, these photographers’—and it is so close. It is still here, the barest hint of colour suggesting a sign of life. The subjects here are not dead. Merely unused. Beyond use.
Beyond bearing witness to materials, design, packaging, technology, even geopolitics, these photographs are a record of attachment. Their subjects’ use involved holding in the hand, to the eye. It was intimate, partial. And, like all attachment, necessarily selective.
For reasons of space, time, and money, analogue required the selection what was to be held or retained. Digital, on the other hand, holds out the fantasy that everything can be archived—even that everything will auto-archive itself. It seems to promise that the recording of the experience will be as complete as the experience itself. Paradoxically, though, that experience—the present auto-archiving itself—is then not present as experience. A simulacrum of a present, a prosthetic present, it exists only in the future or the past. The endless recording of the event supplants its actual occurrence.
Photography has discovered the archive at the moment of its passing. The principle of a governing rule or arkhe is buried under the sheer quantitative possibility of being able to collect everything. The corollary of this documenting it all, though, is that all is document. As the record of the event, any and every possible event, becomes ubiquitous, the event itself—and history—are threatened with impossibility.
Posterity is dying. 36 Related Objects records a vital moment in the process of this death. And in its quiet way contests it.