Category Archives: Part 5 Projects and Exercises Constructed realities and the fabricated image

Part 5 project 2: The Archive

From the day of the invention of photography the inherent quality and capability of the photograph has been to make a representation of reality and this has been used to justify, normalise and perpetuate western economic, social and culture relationships. This usage has stretched from a pivotal contribution to the growth of colonialism and racial stereotyping through to the reinforcement of gender roles and differences in social class that define history, propaganda, advertising, mass popular culture all of which collide and collude to create our social reality.

The archive is essentially a wider collection of photographs with a common quality running throughout the population of images organised and used to provide context, information, evidence, meanings and explanations whether they be of an historic or contemporary nature. “The model of the archive, of the ensemble of images….exerts a basic influence on the characters of the truth” (Sekula, A. 1991)

This model of the archive becomes even more significant when we consider Sekula’s point that, “Archives are property of either individuals or institutions and their ownership may or may not coincide with authorship. One characteristic of photography is that authorship of individual images and the control and ownership of archives do not commonly reside in the same individual.” (Sekula, A. 1991)

Sekula goes on, “In an archive, the possibility of meaning is ‘liberated’ from the actual contingencies of use. But this liberation is also a loss, an abstraction from the complexity and richness of use, a loss of context.” (Sekula, A.1991). This Sekula believes is particularly problematic within the practice of the creation of the photo-book that is made entirely from archived photographs.

Many artists are now responding to the photography archive through exploring and challenging the context and meaning of these images. These archives include official archives held by public bodies for bureaucratic or historical purposes, family photograph albums, found or auctioned photographs.

Liz Wells quotes Jane Connarty on the importance of the archive in art practice, “the themes of history and memory have been central to cultural production and discourse through much of the 20th and into the 21st centuries. Photography, film and the archive are associated with the concept of memory, functioning as a surrogate, or virtual sites of remembrance, or as metaphors for the process of recalling the past. The experience of viewing archival photographic prints or film can have a seductive, even spellbinding effect in the viewer; their evoking a sense of time and nostalgia or conjuring fantasies of history. (Connarty and Lanyon 2006:7). (Wells, L. 2009:63)


Figure 1: Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin taken from People in Trouble (2011)

I like the Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin collaboration People in Trouble the result of a commission by Belfast Exposed, originally founded in 1983 in response to the close and careful control of an archive containing over 14,000 contact sheets depicting British Military activities during the troubles in Northern Ireland during the 1960s and 70s. This photo archive established by UK authorities was a direct response to concerns over the behaviour of the British Military and the images themselves are a mixture of citizen, journalistic and official photographs. What the artists found most intriguing was how specific images from the archive were marked and labelled by a system of different coloured dots by the archivists.

Broomberg’s and Chanarin’s artistic response was to remove the dots in order to see what tiny round part of the image had been hidden beneath the randomly placed coloured dot. These tiny snippets of hidden image systematically and arbitrarily affected are re-imagined to give the photographs alternative dialogues and fiction.

This project highlights the control that photography and the process of archiving can exercise in creating and establishing a particular and seemingly natural version of reality. The artists describe their work in their own words, “Each of these fragments – composed by the random gesture of the archivist – offers up a self-contained universe all of its own; a small moment of desire or frustration or thwarted communication that is re-animated here after many years in darkness.”

To see this work visit:

I find this this concept of a hidden, lost, affected or manipulated interpretation of history and reality to be of real concern and interest. The politics and power relationships in making, acquiring, archiving and distributing images within economic, cultural and social structures I find quite disturbing.

Zoe Leonard and Cheryl Dunne taken from The Fae Richards Photo Archive (1996)

Other works of interest are The Fae Richards Photo Archive the collaborative outcome of artist Zoe Leonard and film-maker Cheryl Dunye. These photographs provide a narrative chronicling the life of the fictional character Fae Richards, an African-American actress born in the early 20th century through to her old age and involvement in the civil rights movement. Dunye attributes her photographic falsification of a life history to the lack of information recorded in real life

“The Watermelon Woman came from the real lack of any information about the lesbian and film history of African-American women. Since it wasn’t happening, I invented it.”

Through the use of photographic and archival conventions Leonard and Dunye successfully borrow from the lives of historical figures to create a believable narrative that explores questions about what is actually left out of history and it’s records.


Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin People in Trouble at the artists website (accessed 5/12/16) AT:

Zoe Leonard and Cheryl Dunne The Fae Richards Photo Archive (1996) (accessed 5/12/16) AT:

Sekula, A. ESSAY: Reading An Archive Photography between labour and capital (1991) – Taken from The Photography Reader Wells, L (2002) London: Routledge

Wells, L. Photography a critical introduction 4th ed.(2009) London: Routledge

List of images

Figure 1: Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin taken from People in Trouble (2011) full details of access from bibliography above

Figure 2: Zoe Leonard and Cheryl Dunne taken from The Fae Richards Photo Archive (1996) full details of access from bibliography above

Part 5 Constructed realities and the fabricated image, Project 1: Setting the scene


Figure 1, Cindy Sherman taken from Centrefolds (1981)

Similar to film or theatre the tableau or staged photograph, “relies heavily upon a narrative for it’s reading….and…. it has become most synonymous with contemporary art photography.” Bright, S (2011:77).

There are a number of highly influential artists in this field dating from the post-modernism period such as Cindy Sherman, Jeff Wall, Philip-Lorca DiCorcia through to more contemporary artists such as Hannah Starkey, Sarah Jones, Taryn Simon plus many more. What is common to all is a tension between what is real and what is constructed and whilst scales of production and complexity can vary enormously, what is irrefutable is that the role of the artist is central to creating a representation of a reality inviting critical interpretation in much the same way that classical art paintings operate. (Bright, S. 2011:78).


Figure 2, Cindy Sherman Untitled taken from Film Still (1978)

Cindy Sherman

Has responded to the influences of film and mass media through her highly influential works questioning and subverting female roles and the construction of stereotypes.

Born in 1954 in New Jersey, she originally studied art but after a few years as a painter decided that photography was the medium to best explore the society of popular mass culture. Sherman works completely on her own and appears in her own visual scenes where she plays fictional characters that she has drawn from the archives of our collective sub-conscious.

Brought up in the golden age of American TV and film Sherman began shooting her first major work ‘Untitled Film Stills’ in the 1970s. The images appear as stills taken from films (industry) that shaped popular culture in the 20th century, and although they are all original scenes they create a sense of familiarity as they resonate with the images, which had become ubiquitous in our everyday lives through the constant feed from the mass media.
Eva Respini describes her work as a “revealing and critiquing the artifice of identity and how photography is complicit in it’s making….she addresses the anxieties of the status of the self with pictures that are frighteningly on point and direct in their appraisal of the current culture of the cultivated self ” (Respini, 2012:P13)

Jeff Wall

Rejects the notion that he is always in total control of his artistic or creative process. He proposes that his work is often a combination of random thoughts or experiences which are available to everybody and he uses the example of his image Boy falls from tree (2010) to illustrate this idea. To find out more follow the video link below of an interview where the artist discusses his work. Jeff Wall: Tableaux Pictures Photographs 1996-2013.


Figure 3, Gregory Crewdson taken from Twilight series (1998-2002)

Gregory Crewdon

Is famous for large-scale cinematic productions that explore a darker side of the vernacular of American life. The artist’s planning and attention to detail are admirable and certainly set him aside in his field. His intention is to create a frame of beauty that is infused with a psychological tension that I think he clearly achieves with his extensive use of props, colours and lighting arrangements.

Untitled - March 1999 1999 by Hannah Starkey born 1971

Figure 4, Hannah Starkey Untitled (1999)

Hannah Starkey

Is an artist who initially developed through creating stage compositions mainly of young women positioned within the urban spaces created by Capitalism. I find her work more accessible than the likes of Jeff Wall and Gregory Crewdson and connected more with people even if it what is depicted is ironically a process of dehumanisation.


Figure 5, Philip-Lorca DiCorcia Eddie Anderson, 21 years old, Houston, Texas, $20 (1989)

Philip-Lorca DiCorica

I found Philip-Lorca DiCorcia series Hustlers really interesting in how it combines the candid moment of real life with the sense of artificiality of a staged event. The subjects of the portraits were male prostitutes hired by the artist in Hollywood, LA. Instead of receiving their sexual services DiCorcia took their photograph. The titles of these images include: the name of model, age, location and amount of money that they were initially looking for in order to sell themselves. I like that by creating these titles the artist seems to imply that we are all to a point complicit in this relationship.

Final thoughts

From a purely aesthetic point of view I certainly feel very comfortable and grounded in the subject matter covered by artists that sit within this particular genre of photography. Having grown up during the 1970s and 1980s on a diet of TV, magazines and film I like many others see this sort of imagery produced as a very natural form and I am drawn to it’s familiarity.

Within this however what I have begun to learn about myself through this C & N course is that the image or work must have some meaningful purpose. For this reason I feel more drawn to work by the likes of Cindy Sherman than say that Gregory Crewdson as I believe that the work matters more. Whilst Crewdson’s work is certainly aesthetically successful what would actually happen if he didn’t produce anymore work? I think the world just goes on, whereas Cindy Sherman’s contribution around roles and identity have definitely made a difference in people’s attitudes and ways of thinking and whilst her work is focussed towards the female gender her concepts have also influenced the thinking around male gender and stereotypes in general.

“We’re all products of what we want to project to the world. Even people who don’t spend any time, or think they don’t, on preparing themselves for the world out there – I think that ultimately they have for their whole lives groomed themselves to be a certain way, to present a face to the world.” Cindy Sherman


Bright, S. Art Photography Now 2011 London: Thames and Hudson

Cotton, C. The Photograph as Contemporary Art 3rd ed. (2014)

London: Thames and Hudson

Cindy Sherman, curator E. Respini, exhibition MoMA. (2012) NY.

Starkey, Hannah. Photographs 1997-2007 Germany: Stiedl.


Figure 1, Cindy Sherman taken from Centrefolds (1981)

Figure 2, Cindy Sherman Untitled taken from Film Still (1978)

Figure 3, Gregory Crewdson taken from Twilight series (1998-2002)

Figure 4, Hannah Starkey Untitled (1999)

Figure 5, Philip-Lorca DiCorcia Eddie Anderson, 21 years old, Houston, Texas, $20 (1989)