“What she did with me--I must have been eight, or twelve, who remembers--was to sit me down in the kitchen and take a straw broom and start furiously sweeping the floor, and she asked me which part of the broom was more elemental, more fundamental, in my opinion, the bristles or the handle. The bristles or the handle. And I hemmed and hawed, and she swept more and more violently, and I got nervous, and finally when I said I supposed the bristles, because you could after a fashion sweep without the handle, by just holding on to the bristles, but couldn’t sweep with just the handle, she tackled me, and knocked me out of my chair, and yelled into my ear something like, ’Aha, that’s because you want to sweep with the broom, isn’t it? It’s because of what you want the broom for, isn’t it?’ Et cetera. And that if what we wanted a broom for was to break windows, then the handle was clearly the fundamental essence of the broom, and she illustrated with the kitchen window, and a crowd of the domestics gathered; but that if we wanted the broom to sweep with, see for example the broken glass, sweep sweep, the bristles were the thing’s essence. No? What now, then? With pencils? No matter. Meaning as fundamentalness. Fundamentalness as use. Meaning as use. Meaning as fundamentalness.”
– David Foster Wallace, The Broom of the System
“He had been extremely chastened to realize that although he originally came from a world which had cars and computers and ballet and Armagnac, he didn't, by himself, know how any of it worked. He couldn't do it. Left to his own devices he couldn't build a toaster. He could just about make a sandwich and that was it. There was not a lot of demand for his services.”
– Douglas Adams, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
“The members of Group f/64 believe that photography, as an art form, must develop along lines defined by the actualities and limitations of the photographic medium, and must always remain independent of ideological conventions of art and aesthetics that are reminiscent of a period and culture antedating the growth of the medium itself.”
– Manifesto of Group f/64
Most all technologies develop their own sort of language due to the means and manner that that technology is (or was) used. Whether you consider a sandwich, a broom, or (in my case) photography, certain elements of style exist among connoisseurs as to how to use these and why.
For most all of today’s technologies we also rely on a complex supply chain to provide us with the requisite pieces and parts to accomplish these tasks. In the world of photography, a medium that has most always been punctuated by changes in the tools, many of the supply chains that are required for older technologies to work have broken down, which makes these processes more difficult to accomplish than they used to be, if not impossible. It seems to me that the lifespan of usefulness of these technologies has become shorter and shorter each passing year. Consider this: today it’s more difficult for me to use a technology from my childhood (the 1980s) such as a floppy disk or a cassette tape than it is for me to use a technology from the 1880s such as wet-plate collodion. Why? Because of the increased complexity of the supply chain. And so, in darkrooms and closets everywhere, next to the brooms perhaps, rest bits and pieces of these past photographic and digital technologies.
But no, this series of images is not about seeking out the means to use difficult products from yesteryear in order to make images like folks made images back in those days, I’m not trying to sentimentally get that retro “feeling.” Instead, I am trying to look at the objects—not the images—that have been life behind. My goal is to reconsider these bits of trash and transform them into cherished relics. In doing so, it is necessary to remove them from their original intention, thus shifting the ‘fundamentalness’ of that object to my new purpose. This puzzle is where the interesting question lies for me.