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The archaeology of photography: rereading Michel Foucault and the archaeology of knowledge David Bate The French historian of discourse, Michel Foucault, made a clear distinction between the "archive" and the method that he describes as archaeological. While this method does not require a trowel to dig through the earth, the metaphor of digging provides a valuable image of what the historical researcher needs to do. For Foucault, the historian must excavate an archive to reveal not merely what is in it, but the very conditions that have made that archive possible, what he calls its historical a priori. (1) This historical a priori is the "condition of reality for statements," the rules that characterize any discursive practice. Thus, the archive in Foucault's work is nothing so literal as rows of dusty shelves in a particular institution, but rather involves the whole system or apparatus that enables such artifacts to exist (including the actual institutional building itself). In this model, the "archive" is already a construct, a corpus that is the product of a discourse. One must dig to make sense of the systems behind what one sees. In fact, Foucault's argument is based on the semiotic distinction between langue and parole in linguistics. The linguistic opposition langue and parole (grammar and speech) is used to demonstrate how any utterance is always a symptom of the system that allows it to exist. In this conception, any act of speech (parole) is a specific instance, an event, that gives evidence of the rules of grammar (langue), the abstract set of rules about language through which that event is allowed its form; a form, which of course, over time, can be reformed or changed. For Foucault then, any archive is an instance of parole, where one can deconstruct the rules of the "language" (langue) that underpins it. The use of this theory by Foucault to construct a model of thinking about the archaeology of knowledge has important consequences for the field of photography and the notion of the archive. In the first instance, the idea of photography as a type of "archive" has been around since the early days of photography. Whether it was (or is) an institution that wants to categorize its objects through photographs (e.g., criminals by the police, military and colonial campaigns mapping land, a museum its artifacts, a family through its "album") or whether it is individual photographers who construct a taxonomy of objects through their photographs (e.g., John Thomson's Street Life of London, Eugene Atget's Paris photographs, August Sander's People of the Twentieth Century in Germany, Phillip-Lorca diCorcia's Heads, to name only a few), the aim is always the same: to provide a corpus of images that represent--and can be consulted about--a specific object. This means that photographs are almost always to be found within the conception of practice as an "archive." Everywhere around us, it seems, there are new digital photographic archives being constructed: cctv control centres, the various types of people-based "democratic" Web sites like Flickr and YouTube, millions of cell phone camera memory cards, and personal computer hard disks--not to mention the many vast commercial and governmental computer data image files. All these new archives, with their taxonomic "tab" and keyword search finder systems, insinuate the archive as an expanded field of cultural activity whose horizons appear more infinite day by day. For all these reasons, the "archive" is a central concept in the arsenal of cultural knowledge. So the idea of photography as an archive (an archival practice) is not so abstract or strange and not limited to the province of curators, academics, museum researchers, or picture agents. The archive is a crucial basic tool of "cultural intermediaries," picture researchers, editors, and agents, etc., where finding and naming something is an essential aspect of daily work, an everyday problematic. We might say the same applies to photographers as well, be they stock library photographers, art photographers, or even amateurs: the taxonomy of "objects, things, and people" that are photographed have the issue of the archive in common. It might be thought then that the problems encountered--if not the actual situations--are similar for gallery curators just as much as they are for a photographer setting out to make some "work." The production, filing, and storage of images in archives within categories as well as the occasional configuration (selection) from these archive materials into exhibitions thus demands an approach to how we use them and this is where Foucault's concept of archaeology might be useful.
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and their works and themes that contribute something "new. with his concept of the archaeology of knowledge. Foucault challenges that practice. the picture-making industries) and the relations between people within communities-how they lived and how they were literally perceived. To this end. He argues first that archives are not necessarily coherent (historians often make it appear that way by the first choices--the process of decision-making--they make in their work)." (2) Instead.." Genius. how. Foucault." where discerning "amateurs" (like Daguerre or Fox Talbot) could begin to capitalize on their invention as an industry. specifically resituates the work of history (his book is about his own work. it is more important for the archaeologist to search for the regular features of objects in their appearance. even now http://findarticles. agriculture.com/p/articles/mi_m2479/is_3_35/ai_n24225806/print?tag=artBody. [ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] It is here that. images. changed the whole society.g. (3) From all this emerges a very different attitude whereby one is more concerned with the raw materials (the archaeological evidence from which descriptions are constructed) than with the "accumulation of fact" (the repository of the past itself). including the social and cultural relations of producers of commodities (e. Typical narratives in the history of photography." the basic construction of its description. relies on identifying originality. and the extraordinary are key themes selected to represent the development of photography in a general history of photography--where the subject matter of photographs is often subservient to those categories. Science. "interpreting" an archive is a project that already implicitly accepts the underlying terms of the system. posing the question of identifying the true inventor: William Henry Fox Talbot or Louis Daguerre? (A question about as important as the one asking how many angels can gather on the head of a pin. and representations are so many parts of what make up a discourse--not the other way around as is commonly conceived. what the photography was used for. we would quickly regard the "surfaces of emergence" of photography in the nineteenth century as along a fault line between "art" and "science. influence. A discourse is not the base for other knowledge. Rather. This "crisis" in each category. Industrialism and the specialisms of the new industrial world demanded that the status of the artist/artisan and the scientist/entrepreneur overlap in new ways because of the skills that new technologies demanded. for example. First.Afterimage: The archaeology of photography: rereading Michel Foucault and the archaeology of knowledge 12/3/08 8:43 PM [ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] Now. naming authors. an archaeology of photography would be different from the history of photography. The history of photography.col1 Page 2 of 5 . or the specific personal wishes of specific individuals "to photograph" (a history through "psycho-biography. its sustainability despite certain contradictions. as a realm of rational knowledge. art and science. he is not. while it is typically the task of the historian (or even photographer) to use the archive to explain an object (past or present)." which denies social levels of analysis) than with the issue of where and why it emerged as it did. And so it was that the industrial revolution. became inextricably linked with the sphere of the "entrepreneur. as it is most often practiced. for example. and where. food. In other words. Foucault. and what regular objects appear across the surfaces of all these photographs. is still manifest today among those who find it is impossible. I want to indicate some of the implications of this idea for the field of photography in approaches to history and photographic practice. via capitalism. "the regularity of statements. they are the material. and the analysis of change and transformation in a discursive practice. concerned with the provenance of objects: who made what. second." which in fact constitute the discourse of any discursive practice." Art and science were two conflicting categories during the social and political revolution of industrialization. one can begin to define and determine how to conceptualize the archaeology of photography. which form the "already-said. In Foucault's "archaeology of knowledge. The archive "reveals the rules of a practice. include where to situate its invention: in either England or France. Foucault argues four main aspects to this work: the emergence of a discourse. documents. it is itself the site of how knowledge comes to be constituted. Art and artisan methods of production and purpose were challenged by the innovation of industrial processes such as photography. unlike the antiquarian. archives of photographs do not reflect historical reality. proposes that objects and documents can be examined for what they reveal about a discourse. clothing. like an archaeologist. From this rather abstract starting point in discourse theory. To Foucault. always incomplete. archaeology rather than history or the "history of ideas") as the work of discourse theory. the comparison of different discursive practices. and." objects.) An archaeology of photography would be less preoccupied with the individual rivalry between such figures.
and individuals (family images. study. it was media. what they might even unexpectedly have in common. we might think of the appearance of the photographs taken at Abu Ghraib (now an online "archive") as finally a public acknowledgement of a type of archive. consequently people speak about the advertisement. is still manifest today among those who find it is impossible. vast industry of stock photography).com/p/articles/mi_m2479/is_3_35/ai_n24225806/print?tag=artBody. (5) http://findarticles. legal). administrative. throughout the twentieth century. in that "photography" in fact demanded a combination of both. the dynamic between art and mass media culture has fundamentally changed. as a "Coca-Cola advertisement" or a "Levi's Jeans advertisement.) Instead. arguing for the autonomy of art from mass culture. The credit given to the brand for its creativeness is what counts. art director. even now (among photographers as much as historians and critics). however. Photography has been central in the mutation of that debate not least because it was involved in both art and mass media. the development and growth of photo agencies (including the new. the client who paid for it. and practice of photography. the sex industry.).Afterimage: The archaeology of photography: rereading Michel Foucault and the archaeology of knowledge 12/3/08 8:43 PM demanded. (A discussion that is difficult no doubt partly due to the obvious disturbance it causes to popular discourses of humanism--witness Susan Sontag's response. and not the advertising agency that most likely conceived and directed it. or the earlier vociferous critics from within photography like Alfred Stieglitz. photojournalism. The archaeological approach brings a quite different perspective to the thinking. the rise of advertising agencies whose owners became rich and powerful by mediating between clients and photographers and dictating the images (art direction) and distribution. In this respect. art and science. it might be said that one key failure of the history of photography has been its inability to recognize how far the emergent uses of photography were instrumental in the very mutation of the existing fields of art and science. a sort of perverted tourist photography. and tourism). an archaeology would attempt to show what separates the discursive practices. a key question in the history of photography. travel. and the public authorship (credit) for the photograph is attributed to the advertiser. crucial to the appearance of a whole new domain that. each tolerating a reciprocal "difference." while trading like suspicious frontier pioneers. In an art discourse. military. For example. to finally "decide" whether photography is an art or science. No longer is there such an explicit opposition as that defined by mid-twentieth-century critics like Clement Greenberg (famous for his 1939 essay "Avant-Garde and Kitsch")." Crucial here is the role of "art" as an institution. medical. or photography used by the state. photographer." No doubt this promotes brand identity over any individual (the creatives. The "author" of the advertisement is thus an abstract corporation. there are significantly different ideas about what an author is in different photographic discourses. the commerce between art and media accommodates much more exchange. Then there are the uses of photography by state authorities (police. the photographic image emerges as a media-driven "archive" whose statements must not be taken at face value but are to be read as symptomatic of culture and its language. etc. emerged and became unified as the new media institutions and agencies--where both art and science were implicated and acknowledged. Photography was. During the twentieth century. or indeed. The archaeology of photography would not try to overcome or "resolve" those contradictions and conflicts between the differing functions of photography in art or in media institutions like advertising. (4)) An archaeology takes the issue of photography beyond the boundaries of technological innovation (science) that still dominate the popular conception of photography as a "technology." Today. in this respect. corporations (scientific. for example. the same photographer within an advertising discourse would not normally be featured or named as the author of the campaign. An archaeology of photography would register the various and different "surfaces of emergence" of photography--from the complex of institutions across which photography emerged in the nineteenth century to the new twentieth-century developments (staff photographers and picture editors at newspapers). Across all these diverse discursive practices. one that had long been overdue for discussion: the discourse of the "war trophy" picture.col1 Page 3 of 5 . This "crisis" in each category. Indeed. (Nor would it seek to collapse them together as some postmodernist discourses claimed. for example. The opposition (though not a distinction) between art and science was obsolete. the name and biography of the author (photographic artist) serves a key function. if we take the theme of authorship. who opposed "commercialism. Meanwhile. hitherto kept private. The photographer is seen as a technician involved in the production of the basic photographic image. which remains a significant component of the discursive archipelago of photography. or computer compositor) involved in its production.
inconsistencies. the particularity of photography as a plurality of practices is missed. Furthermore. but in this manner one might begin to totally reconstruct thinking about photography (even as plural "photographies"). even if the material substrates have changed. an "interdiscursive configuration" of practices that work across writing. Comparing photography with other discursive practices of visual representation would help to distinguish more clearly the specificities of photography and identify its common relations with other media. the archaeology of photography would look quite different to the imagined unity produced by a "history of photography. lay claim to portray. the latter concerned with the social dimension of private relations. Across these differences and similarities. that constitute. for instance. instead of chronologies of media. which gives way to television. that the photographer is given recognition. social "reality. with the theme of realism there is a network of relationships. Thus. Photography might be constructed and conceived as a network of discursive practices. So. the consumer becomes an artist expressing their "individuality" in the very act of brand consumption. the way a photographer negotiates their position as a photographer in and across different institutional discourses would provide another aspect of archaeology: the discourse of the photographer. [ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] These speculations on an archaeological approach are somewhat provisional. fools the eye into believing it sees "movement. all these media continue to co-exist.col1 Page 4 of 5 . Yet the significance of the differences in these discursive uses of the "author-function" (a concept introduced by Foucault in his 1969 essay "What is an Author?" and somewhat overshadowed by Roland Barthes's 1967 essay "Death of the Author") can be seen to play a critical role in the discourses of advertising and art. an archaeological discourse would. The photographic image is now completely central to all these technological devices. for example." conditions of the family. in such chronologies of media. and the Internet (while we wait for the next installment). photography. How might an "amateur" bloggers negotiate those same public/private relations? An http://findarticles. and overlapping unities such that to map the points at which these multiple contradictions are constituted becomes itself the objective of research work." What implicit propositions do the various practices of photographic images share in common about the world." It would thus be possible to delineate the features of this reality (the reality of "terror. Web pages and so on. Of course. how "reality" is specifically constructed across such forms in what Foucault would call an interdiscursive configuration." Yet cinema can be related to the traditions of the theatre. Yet. Photography is then seen as the precursor to and the precondition for cinema. etc. about what is ordinary and shocking or "everyday"? In an archaeology of photography we would be free to draw together such "diverse" practices as the photographs of Andreas Gursky and a reality television show like "Big Brother.Afterimage: The archaeology of photography: rereading Michel Foucault and the archaeology of knowledge 12/3/08 8:43 PM While a photographer working in both situations may feel they are the same creative person (merely working within different institutional constraints). which projected at (the right) speed. The thing is that these media pervade one another just as the photographic still image saturates these other media: cinema is nothing but a sequence of still images. but neither is it a completely separate or a disparate set of practices with no relation to one another. One might even argue further that the negation of actual individual authorship in advertising helps to affirm the necessity of individuality of authorship in art (the artist). film. the abstract corporate authorship in advertisements that offers a brand identity to the consumer also leaves the space of individual authorship open so that the consumer may occupy it: they fulfill the empty space. yet maintain the diversity of their description--despite any difficulties encountered in doing this. as a domain that is not totally homogeneous.) across these forms. television. Even the Internet uses relations between images and texts in ways that repeat older practices ("illuminated manuscripts").com/p/articles/mi_m2479/is_3_35/ai_n24225806/print?tag=artBody. ignored--as it is in the other media too. but in new forms (the "photoblog" or where the still image serves even as a "button" to trigger MPEG-animated movement). video." which in many ways mirror each other in providing contrasting aspects of actuality: the former concerned with the articulation of the public sphere and social space. as a discursive practice. A usual historical chronology of media technology would situate photography as the inheritor of the condition of painting. The different use of authorship is part of what makes the difference between the discursive practices of art and advertising. would provide a valuable contribution to the archaeology of photography. (6) In such comparisons can be found the "interpositivity" between discourses without reducing them to either a single unity or complete difference. whether or not they experience these discursive differences (their parole) as contradictions. In a way this helps to understand the function of art. whereas they are usually not in advertising and journalism. The perspective of the photographer. interlinked with contradictions. seek to show. the novel and even the mise-en-scene of painting.
E.g." DAVID BATE is a photographer and course leader of the Master of Arts in Photographic Studies program at the University of Westminster in London. COPYRIGHT 2007 Visual Studies Workshop COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale. media studies) that were not designed for the study of such a polymorphous and ever-present phenomenon across culture: the photographic image. a camera). 144. 4. institutions.) In such instances the authorship of the photographer or even the photograph is part of the meaning given to the product.col1 Page 5 of 5 . As Rosalind Krauss once hinted. We might learn something new from it. cinema.H. 158. One exception to this is where the photographer. but it is more difficult to understand the tolerance for the kind of incoherence it produces. 298. Ibid.. 2004). United Kingdom.. but based in an archaeological approach that might liberate the study of photography from the straightjacket of institutionally bound versions of its history. An archaeological approach might thus release photography from those methods applied to it derived from media (painting. (7) Foucault shows a way: doing history--an archaeology of knowledge--as a practice that recognizes complexity and even contradiction without reducing it to some hidden or spurious unity. (8) Today. With the massive accumulation of photographs that are currently appearing. "Regarding the Torture of Others." in The Contest of Meaning. How might an "amateur" bloggers negotiate those same public/private relations? An archaeology of such apparently diverse practices would construct a quite different understanding of the strategies of visual representation and the objects signified within them. 1999).Afterimage: The archaeology of photography: rereading Michel Foucault and the archaeology of knowledge 12/3/08 8:43 PM with the social dimension of private relations. The Uses of Images (London: Phaidon. the same criticism can be levied at the incoherent categories applied to twentieth-century photography. 3. 6. ed. 7. [ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] These questions I have tried to introduce (and others) are somewhat provisional." (Don McCullin. "Photography's Discursive Spaces" by saying of scholarship on nineteenth-century photography: Everywhere at present there is an attempt to dismantle the photographic archive--the set of practices. the British documentary photographer known from the Vietnam War did a series of billboard advertisements for the police that brandished his name to give an authority of "truth" to the photographs. for example. MA: MIT Press. Ibid. too.com/p/articles/mi_m2479/is_3_35/ai_n24225806/print?tag=artBody. It demands a form of study that would develop methods beyond the iconographic approach that Ernest Gombrich tried to develop as a "general history" of images in his book The Uses of Images. as when a famous photographer "recommends" a product (e. (Cambridge. "Photography's Discursive Spaces. 1985). "perhaps the ignorant photographer of the future will be the one who cannot read the archaeology of their own photographs. Susan Sontag. My essay and title alludes to Michel Foucault's book. their reduction from complex histories to a discourse of photography as art. 2. say. NOTES 1. and relationships to which nineteenth century photography originally belonged--and to reassemble it within the categories previously constituted by art and its history. Foucault. or where their type of photography offers a particular quality." The New York Times Magazine (May 23.. It is not hard to conceive of what the inducements for doing so are. This may even be one of the key issues confronting recent photographic practice. 5. this is a problem that needs to be dealt with. She concluded her 1982 essay. Richard Bolton. 8. Rosalind Krauss. perhaps even the contemporary photographer must become more of an archaeologist. is a component of the advertisement itself and the photographer's name is included in an advertisement. The Archaeology of Knowledge (London: Tavistock. 1996). To rephrase Walter Benjamin's famous quote. Gombrich. 130. a guarantee of "truth. Cengage Learning http://findarticles.