Saving Photography


The title of this project surprised some people who have heard me using a similar phrase in a different context before. I often told my art students that it is ‘not our job to save photography’. Todays issues should be told with todays media. The world has changed and the image technology we once called ‘photography’ has merged into other visual ways of story telling. We do not have to mourn or to be nostalgic about that. Great new opportunities have risen and we should put all our energy into developing them.

We do, however, have an obligation to our visual history.

Working with new media as virtual reality, often makes me look back at cross points in history when art and technology challenged each other before. With the birth of photography in the 19th century people got the opportunity to visually communicate their dreams, worries, grieves and distress to others. We still use image technology to do so. There is a direct connection between early photography and the Instagram culture of today.

The images, ordinary people produced in the first century of photography, are often hidden in boxes and – with a bit of luck – archives. Often context like names, dates and places did not survive. Historians and artists have to re-create the stories these images might tell. This fascinates me.

In this time frame keeping photography as a medium stuck to paper, is suffocating its significance. The signs of usage and time on paper will create more and more distance to their origins. Scratches, dust and decay work as a blanked covering its content. I gave myself the task to redeem photographs from paper so they can communicate in different ways. With digital technology I can nearly treat quality photography as music written in notes by classical composers. The people on the photographs are dead – but their stories come to life.

With my own background and experiences as a photographer in mind, I startedcollecting and editing thousands of personal photographs that were disconnected from their origins. I found paper photographs on (online) flee markets and auctions. I also received boxes and albums with photo’s  – send by nice people who felt the responsibility to give them a good home. The fast growing analogue archive of visual personal histories became my direct connection to the past and a fundament of new story telling possibilities.

These images, as you can see in my daily posts on social media, are step one. For step two I am developing virtual reality experiences together with music composer Frieda Gustavs, director of technology Cris Mollee and others. I will keep you posted on that. For the time being I would like to invite you to travel trough the nearly 300 photographs I have posted on social media since January this year. There is a lot more to come. Your feedback is appreciated.

Leo Erken, October 2019

Click on an image for a slide show.