Sunday, February 8, 2009

Categories and collections

After I made my last post of the composite of some of the finished portraits, I was happy to find an email from Paho Mann, a talented photographer and friend of mine living in Denton, TX.

 It was no surprise that Paho liked my composite image, when you consider one of his images from a project he is finished on the recycling plant in Phoenix Arizona. You can see more of Paho Mann's work at

Paho has been making work about collections and taxonomy for many years. For me, searching through the photo archives at the Brooklyn Historical Society was one of the first times I began to consider collections as having identities greater than their individual items. Initially, I had imagined that I would search through the photographs at BHS to find a few that would intrigue me and those would become the basis of my project.  After awhile, I became more interested in the _collection_ of all these photographs. What did they say as an entirety that was different than what they communicated individually? 

 Julie May, the photo librarian, began to pull boxes containing folders of portraits from the archive for me. For instance; there are folder for portraits of identified people. These people are organized alphabetically by last name. Because these are known people, the majority of them are business men or headshots of actresses or actors. Then there are some families who have extensive albums and these are identified by the family name and contain portrait photos in photo albums. 

This experience reminded me of my favorite piece in the Whitney's 2008 Biennial. It is a film by Javier Téllez called "Letter on the Blind For the Use of Those Who See." What the film is 6 blind people speaking about their experience touching an elephant. The animal is so big that they can't comprehend it in its entirety. This is how I feel about knowing a collection. 

And now that I am no longer looking through the photographs collected at BHS, it is how I feel about sorting through the 300 portraits I made as I begin to edit them into a finished work.