President’s Park

When a picture is taken, both the photographed and the photographer hold responsibility for that moment. The photographed, for holding the experience, for creating a display to be captured; and the photographer, for making the experience real, for producing evidence and distributing knowledge of the event. This is Derrida’s concept that Marlene Manoff holds at high importance. Archiving records an event, of course; it documents the very existence of that event. And, in doing this, a moment is produced. It is made known that the event has taken place; the archivist can distribute this moment and say, “Hey, this happened.”

In my “photograph not taken” essay, I described a stop that I made on a road trip last summer. President’s Park, a large, privately-owned farm in Virginia, holds these fantastic twenty-foot marble busts of every single US president. The grounds are not open to the public, but my boyfriend and I were determined to see the statues for ourselves, so we entered anyway. We didn’t wander long before we were chased off by the landowner, and upon the return to our car, we realized we hadn’t snapped a single photo of the massive statues to prove we had made it there. How would anyone know we saw them if the evidence did not exist? Would anyone believe the heads existed at all?

Denis Wood discusses the fact that, “we are always mapping [or archiving] the invisible or the unattainable[…]” Is it possible that we feel more inclined to archive the invisible or the unattainable because we feel others will not believe it without documentation? If, for a second, the invisible was seen (or the unattainable was attained), do we feel victory in producing evidence that says to our peers, “Hey, this happened”?

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