Spirit is a Bone : by Broomberg & Chanarin

Spirit is a Bone

In 2012 GRAIN commissioned artists Broomberg & Chanarin to  respond to the photography archive at the Library of Birmingham.  Rather than work with a particular archive they decided to respond to the state of the photography archive itself, the impossibilities of seeing and visiting the archive, the uncertainties of authorship, categorisation, digitisation and custodianship as the archive moved from its home at the Birmingham Central Reference Library to the new Library of Birmingham.  They made connections with the archive and with their own work and concerns.

They responded in the form of a new photobook which combines a series of portraits made with a Russian camera, made for face recognition and surveillance, ‘non collaborative portraits’, where human contact is not made, with a new critically engaged contextual essay by Eyal Weizman and with a response to the Sir Benjamin Stone archive.

The essay asks two main questions; What is the potential impact of technology on portraiture and citizenship?  And what is the ideological link between Stone’s activities and the photographs he collected and the facial recognition technology?

Echoing August Sander’s seminal work, Citizens of the Twentieth Century, the series of portraits are cast according to professions.  The portraits are produced with new technology, with little if any human interaction.

In the book photographs open up the relationship between technology and ideology – theories of race, class and occupation.  The photographs collected by Stone in the second half of the 19th century, in the Library of Birmingham archive, are visual evidence of his interest in history, science, nature and cultures.  Like many, widespread in the Victorian period, Stone had a need to classify, know, collect, control and own. His Album no 50 ‘Types and Races of Mankind’ includes what might be called non-consensual images, made for the scrutiny of others and to increase understanding.

The book and essay prompt questions about engaging with archives and access to them.

The book is published by and is available through MACK here.

Image Credit:  Frau eines Malers
Painter’s Wife
Femme d’un peintre
Жена художника

Copyright 2016 GRAIN.