[0] Sea of Images

The visual world we move through is chaotic, either in physical or digital realms. One can even call it visually polluted. As images fill the world, its overabundance can be related to human insatiability. In image production and -consumption, more images are being placed around us than we can consume at a glance. As the saying goes, we are eating with our eyes, whereby image waste is left to decay over time.

How many pictures in our phones will never be viewed long after its taking? An image is made by someone or for someone but they may also be commissioned or commodified. With the rise of artificial means of producing images, the spread of comes into question. As life becomes overwhelmed with images, how can important moments from the past emerge from photographic archives?

Post-photography is photography that flows in the hybrid space of digital sociability and is a consequence of visual overabundance. The iconosphere is no longer just a metaphor: we inhabit the image and the image inhabits us.” - Joan Fontcuberta
[1] Image Decay

When I began my photographic pursuit, I encountered visual chaos on a more personal level in my microcosm called home. During one humid afternoon in Manila, a black trash bag containing lost photographs from  the photographic past was found. Aside from frequently-viewed family photo albums, the trash bag was discovered deep within an old cabinet, one that was full of curiosities. From my perspective, the amount of photos it contained was enough to define it as visual chaos – a part of the ongoing post-photographic pollution. Its condition is what I would define as image decay. In a literal sense, the photographs were showing signs of natural decomposition — traces of mold and the appearance of insect bites.  From a cognitive perspective, they also fade away from memory.  Without a set of eyes to absorb their presence, the absence might be enough to classify the photographs as non-existent, invisible, or extinct.
[2] Personal Memory Culture

The over-abundance of digital images in the public eye has also endangered a form of memory-keeping. Family photo albums has seen its rise  in popularity throughout the democratization of photography in the late 20th century. However, as smartphones made photographic tools accessible to more people, the presence of family photo albums began to disappear from the family home. Photo albums have found a new home in thrift shops or flea markets for new perspectives. Considering the privilege that cameras carried in the early 20th century, the medium now provides a space for counter-images to embed resistance and rise above supreme narratives.

From an early age, our exposure to various visual stimuli help shape our perception of reality and modes of remembrance. Images can communicate information and meaning far beyond the limitations of language barriers. Growing up in an inter-cultural family that speaks three different languages, photographs can be considered a fourth. I grew up with the desire to look through photographs in albums. Picture this: It was a humid afternoon in Manila, I take out a green family photo album from an antique wunderkammer, where layers of albums also lay gathering dust.

With grandparents who were photographers, the act of looking back was my introduction to photography, memory culture, and photographic books. Fifteen years later, I encountered a black trash bag full of old photographs hidden deep inside a cabinet. Some images are mundane scenes from the late 20th Century, on the other hand, I also found snapshots of iconic moments — events, artists, and even presidents. From the mundane to the momentous, the photographs were taken during the 1950s-1970s across Europe and the Philippines by Annemarie “Annemie” and Nathaniel “Nath” Gutierrez, a German-Filipino photographic duo. Most of their photographs, aside from a few local exhibitions and publications, were never widely released for an international audience.
[3] Memories on the Move

When I moved to Germany, the photographic memories of Annemie and Nath migrated to a new location. After the transit, some images returned to their place of taking. Memories flourish because human beings move about. If we stay motionless, our memories would be dull and lifeless. From photographs being carried in suitcases to images located within our bodies, the world is made up of imaginary intertwining maps of memories constantly on the move. However, we only take with us the memories we consider to be important. Our movement creates a selection of memories which filters the momentous.
[4] From Photo Album to Photobook

The family photo album is a disappearing form of personal archiving and memory culture, but what keeps it alive are communities of artists, researchers, and institutions that work to continue its form and function. Life continues to be archived, whether with new forms of memory-keeping or emerging fields of participative media, such as the photobook.

The future of photobooks remains optimistic. Its potential, especially within the fields of archival photography and personal memory cultures, is reflected by the zeitgeist around the medium. Not only are there more book publishers offering opportunities to turn complex photobook ideas into actuality, but also, the public demand for physicalized media in a highly digitalized world reckons a new kind of desire. Books have the power to communicate with someone in the future. To quote Dayanita Singh, “A (photo)book is a conversation with a stranger in the future.”   

The photobook as an archive makes archival photos and objects accessible, allowing for conversations to take place. Photobooks are distributed, where the conversation comes from personal spaces and enters the public sphere, therefore into collective memory culture.  

Photographic memory culture exists inter-generationally in my family. My grandparents were photographers, who have altogether accumulated thousands of photographs from a time gone by. I have sifted through their photo albums numerous times. As a way to encounter the visual chaos,  I will use their photographic archive to answer the question: 

As life becomes overwhelmed with images, how can important moments from the past emerge from archives?
[5] An Archival Impulse

An archive has the aesthetic quality of appearing disorderly. In many creative or artistic fields, the archive can be perceived as a source of visual data. There is an impulse in certain makers that attracts them to the traditional form of the archive, ones that are normally set up by institutions to preserve mass amounts of important information. A traditional form, such as a museum or state archive, works in relation to bureaucratic standards compared to personal archives, which are more individualistic or emotional.

In the essay, An Archival Impulse, by Hal Foster, the presence of archival aesthetics in contemporary art is discussed. Often lost or disembodied, information from the past is made tangible through the work of archival artists. Found images, objects, and texts are the artefacts that are commonly presented to the public in this art form. Foster focused in on obscure information drawn from mass cultures, which is obtained in a “gesture of alternative knowledge or counter-memory.”

As a notable aspect of archival art, different makers, authors, or owners are merged together as new “bodies” are created from existing ones. For instance, the act of scanning a photograph creates a new image. Authorship, originality, and ownership are dematerialized by blurring the lines between owner and artist, which is a condition of the post-photographic.

After traversing through a personal archive of photographic material,  I have also witnessed an archival revival in public visual cultures. The impulse to archive images has transformed modes of communication and remembrance. From museum exhibitions to photographic festivals, archival material has taken the spotlight and is changing not just personal memory culture but also collective spheres.
[6] Image Research in Archives

Photographic history in the city of Köln, Germany has witnessed the transformations throughout the second half of 20th century. As I am currently taking my studies in the aforementioned city, I have taken the liberty to research about the region’s photographic past. During my research, I discovered that my grandparents’ photo school, the Staatliche Höhere Fachschule für Photografie, is now part of TH Köln – a school where I am currently conducting this Master’s study. I took this new piece of information and dug deeper into the historical archive of TH Köln to learn about its relation to the photo school and my grandparents, with a starting point on the photographs I brought from Manila.

In 1954, photographic training structures also exercised its versatility  in the city of Köln. Amidst Photokina and neighbouring photography  industry, the Staatliche Höhere Fachschule für Photografie was founded to specialize in conveying the technical & scientific knowledge of photography. The school was important in founding photographic talent from all over the world. Ever since its merging with TH Köln, the photo school’s archive is now located in the Historical Archive of TH Köln.  Info materials about the school and documents of my grandparents  were presented to the study by the head of the archive, Katja Lievertz.
[7] Emergence from Archives

After accessing the Historical Archive of TH Köln, Katja Lievertz relocated one of the friends of Annemie and Nath – Sigrid Kröger nee Groß-Blotekamp (*1939), a former student of the Staatliche Höhere Fachschule für Photografie. In a 4-hour interview at Waldbröl, Germany, Sigrid recollects her memories at the school, with the couple, and her life as a photographer. Her memories are now part of the archive. After more than 50 years, Sigrid has reconnected with Annemie and have been in contact ever since.
[8] Photobook as Archive

Photobooks are seeing a rise in usage among photographers. They use it to disseminate their work to other photographers, but that’s exactly where a problem lies. The medium stays within a community of photography enthusiasts. Photobook-makers are making photobooks for each other.  As a way out of the echo chamber, I have simplified the photobook process for a wider dialogue group — people who archive. I argue that we are all archivists to some extent. The book offers a guide to archive life, from selection to sharing, it embodies the act of remembering in many personal memory cultures. Perhaps with this method, the art of the photographic book continues its presence, whether it’s in connection to the family photo album, to the artistic photobook, or to other future forms. 
[9] The Process of Sequencing

Sequencing is a major part of photobook-making. Since the photobook is considered visual literature whose main narrative component are the images, their sequence drives the story from one page to another. The first grouping system clustered the images by the “body” they were contained in — single sheets of photo paper, photo albums, etc. The second grouping system is based on the arbitrary life moments – an alternative to more accurate chronological organization, which is a process commonly followed by traditional archives. The narrowed down selected moments visually progress from the year 1959 to 1974, which is from the time they met at the photo school to the time of Nath’s passing. The process of sequencing helped design the narrative arc of the photobook. Since the photobook journeys through the combined photographic life of Annemie and Nath, images were sequenced in a way that allows the reader to experience moments with the couple as they have happened in the past. 
[10] Life Emerged from the Archive

Every new generation, past moments unfold to be relived through,
rethought of, and reimagined again and again and again. In the study, emergence did not only happen out of the pages but also in the lives touched by it. Firstly, the historical archive of TH Köln was able to locate and collect the stories of three former students of the Staatliche Höhere Fachschule für Photografie. Two long-lost friends, Annemarie Gutierrez and Sigrid Kröger, were able to reunite. And lastly, the archival impulse was reinvigorated. In my personal relationship with Annemie & Nath,
I merge the digital with the physical, the individual with the collective,
the private with the public, and the artistic with the design-centric.

MOMENTOUS is an example of how photobooks can keep photographic archives alive. The archival impulse reawakens memory cultures, providing an opportunity for dialogues between generations to take place. For future generations, the hybrid archive of Annemie and Nath will continue to grow as the photobook transfers from body to body, in which important moments of the past take center stage and emerge from its pages.
Let's co-create?
Byron Co
Art Director

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