The Intimacy of Archiving

To make record of a moment is to fundamentally alter the moment that one wishes to record. The act of recording creates a tension between the archivist and the moment in the present that is being recorded. This tension exists because an archivist records information in the present, in order for people in the future to examine the past. Instead of the archivist simply “living in the moment” they are constantly making judgments about who and what might be relevant in the future. As Derrida has suggested these judgments result in the archivist creating a moment rather than just recording it. When an archivist is recording another human being, they cannot only consider how they are producing the moment but must also take great care in the creation and depiction of the human subject.

The relationship between the archivist and the archived individual is intimate. The archived exposes their self (or some part of their self) to the possibility of being recorded eternally. The archived individual risks much by allowing the archivist to take this piece of them and preserve it. There is always the chance for mischaracterization, inaccuracy, or dishonesty, on the part of the archivist and the poor portrayal of the archived could do permanent damage to the subject or subjects being recorded. In return for the risk being taken by the archived, the archivist must be held responsible to truthfully record a moment to the best of their abilities.

In Erika Larsen’s “Photograph not Taken” piece, Larsen writes about her decision not to record an image of a man experiencing a moment of great heartbreak as he reflects on the suicide of his daughter and the death of his mother. The moment of grief and grace was pure and to record it as it was happening would be to alter and adulterate it. Larsen writes “I put down the camera; the moment was his.” She knew that if she recorded and became a producer of this moment that she would on some level diminish the beauty and intimacy of the moment.

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