These are odd times, times to which a project like the London Archive doesn’t seem to belong.
Or so I thought as I began to draft this text. As I mulled over the kind of arguments employed to knock each other over on the chess board of conceptual art debate and I saw where the above statement was in danger of taking me, I re-phrased it.
These are indeed odd times. Political farce here in the UK, political turmoil elsewhere, the far-right gaining ground everywhere and then the looming global disaster caused by climate change; a state of affairs to which a project like my ‘London Archive’ doesn’t, at a first glance, seem to belong.
At a first glance my photographs are beautiful. To an Art School undergraduate however, this is not an achievement but criticism. Is beauty an illusion, something that blinds us from seeing the dirt, the horrors around us? Does it numb us, cast us under its spell so that we stay docile? Is it an easy way to please the crowds? Is it an indulgence, is it luxury? I will leave those questions here unanswered, and therefore to be contemplated.
As well as being an art project to be viewed by members of the public (and by this, I mainly mean my friends and family) London Archive is also a personal project. I feel very uncertain about the future and photographing, which to me is active seeing, is a way to cope. I have an innate need for harmony and order. I seek it consciously and unconsciously, sometimes compulsively. Therefore, having remembered the reason why I am collecting an archive of photographs of London and having remembered why it is said that people photograph: to remember, to immortalise and to preserve something from the imminence of loss, I added ‘at a first glance’ and thus rewrote this text and redirected my thoughts from apathy and defeat towards resilience and hope.
I have wondered what I will end up saying when I will be asked by future generations what I did during this time, like the question ‘what did you do during the World War II?’ posed to previous generations. More vainly perhaps I have wondered how much the London Archive will weigh in the eyes of future generations. My guesses are based on nothing but assumptions. How am I to know what kind of a story will be told about our times in the future? Who will be the victors who will get to define the past? The best I can do with my art work is to stay true to myself, to my human experience where my work stems from, regardless of how relevant the outcome is in the discourses of contemporary art.
As I am getting nearer to the final stages of this project, I am going to present a few photographs from the archive. Most of them are runners up for the final edition of about 120 images to be exhibited, i.e. photographs that I have edited out but only because there was a better photo of the sub-theme they represent. Although perhaps to promise to ‘present’ is misleading. I know that I won’t write about the photograph in question but around it. It is somehow in the nature of photography, this bent to allusiveness in the presence of blatant life-life detail and I embrace it wholeheartedly.
I have to admit though that the reason why I embrace this poetic license is that I struggle to act as a guide to my images in the manner established by art institutions. I have in the past rebelled against it. At its worst, I felt, it is a mixture of ‘artspeak’ and ‘mansplaining’: art jargon explained condescendingly to the viewer, as if they were blind and dumb. Although I still find it frustrating, I am coming around to it because I think that despite, or perhaps because of, our visual culture, we are visually illiterate. We have become accustomed to consuming images by their face value, so to speak, when underneath the surface, if we look a bit closer, the story is more complicated than it appears at a first glance.
© Carita Silander
Preamble to the London Archive Essays
I asked a few friends and members of family to choose a photograph from the London Archive they would like to know more about. As this premise is my own devising, I have taken the artistic liberties necessary in answering this question. Bar a few exceptions, the result is a series of short essays combining a brief outline of historical information, consideration of photography as a medium as well as an account on how I ended up taking each particular photograph.