Unclaimed Images is an image research project developed by looking, researching and photographing an archival photo-object. In 2010 I kept some couple of hundreds of educational slides discarded by the Archaeology Department of the University of Amsterdam because they were no longer in use. The slides documenting Greek and Roman art were in boxes in disorganized piles and with various traces of damage. The reproductions in the slides form a mix of well known works and many other fragments which are to a degree anonymous. Accumulations of photographic images are usually considered to have a memory function, but in many cases the images have lost the link to the objects they represent, and are no longer documents or a records. They become photographic ruins characterised by a specific material and visual presence. The focus of the Unclaimed Images is the photographic object as a second-level surface, and as open to different modes of new visual life.
The slides have a specific function as as documentation of ancient artworks, but they have lost their and documentary weight. They are material and visual objects with a particular relation to memory, or photographic objects signifying a process of forgetting that is a result of analog photography becoming gradually obsolete. On another level, from the perspective of their provenance and making, the slides are related to forgetting because their makers are impossible to retrace (or only partially). While their primary function defines them as images of particular period in art history, their materiality as obsolete photographic objects defines them as documents of photography as a historical medium. There is a tension between the inherent amnesia of the photographic image and the secondary amnesia related to the loss of documentary value and the discarding of such image collections. I look at these images precisely as a group, as an image-multiplicity, and I focus on their image-value beyond their documentary weight. They become an object of visual interpretation that finds resemblances, modulations of forms, analogies, but also re-interprets, re-figures and re-composes the image. I create different constellations of images with a specific attention to their material and visual qualities. Through a series of images based on re-photographing, printing, projections and superimposition, I would like to pose the question of the visual after-life of the slides as a reproduction medium. There is a lot to discover through re-photographing them in a variety of ways and by projectting them on a variety of screens and material surfaces.
The slides as a photo-object are in a sense an anti-archive, a group of images that have lost not only their documentary value but also their order or organization. By working with such material I examine questions as how image accumulations, which have lost their function as archives, relate to oblivion and possibly to different forms of collective memory. These anonymous images question the status of the photographic image as a document and evidence and its role in building the canon of archives of museums. I explore the visual potentials the slides and their possible transformation from photographic ruins into a new image. The visibility of the group of slides is very different from the singular visibility of a unique masterpiece. This carries a structural resemblance to the archaeological fragment, which is an image open to different types of visual interpretaiton. I use the slides in a way that does not coincide with their usual use as educational or research tool in order to explore their potential as visual objects.
An object of particular interest is the face. In the realm of images portraits are associated with frontality and a particular form of address to the viewer. The face is an affective surface, with which we as viewers form a relation of recognition, it has always had an intimate relationship with what images are. In the case of my primary material, the face remains locked in a photographic image, which has lost link to the artwork it documents. The face in the ancient portraits is another surface that exists on the material surface of the slides.There are interesting tensions between the slides and the nature of their medium - the tension between anonymity and identity of the artwork in the photographic reproduction; the material surface of the analog carriers of the slides in relation to the surface of the digital images I am producing by re-photographing them.
The initial stage of visual research related to the project was done in collaboration with Johannes Schwartz, who back in 1991, acquired a large number of black and white negatives of studio portraits made in India between 1930s to the 1970s. The photographers who made them had no more use for their negatives.
The research for the project is made possible by the generous support of the Mondriaan Fund.