Last night my friend, Aly, came home from being away for the weekend. My other friend, Monica, and I sat with her in commons trying to fill her in on all she had missed. Monica and I were in tears due to our laughter, there are just some things you need to experience yourself. Experience is defined as “to encounter or undergo,” to experience can be to view a picture. As humans, we react to visual stimuli. We can put ourselves into a moment with a simple image. I turned to Monica and told her that us and all of our friends needed to start taking more pictures.

I understand a normal college weekend is not a memory I may want to cherish forever, we have 3 and a half more years of these same weekends. Weekends that Aly won’t have to miss. Despite the older generations protestation of mass social media and the bragging aspect of our oversharing; they seem to forget that sitting around and telling memorable stories has been around since the dawn of time. Why should we be bashed for being able to enhance the mental image of the person we are sharing the story with by providing an actual image? There are so many pictures I wish I had taken.

In 11th grade I did an experiment where I tasted a green, orange and grape liquid, not knowing what any of them actually were. The entirety of the class guessed that the green was apple flavored, orange was orange and purple was grape. My teacher later revealed that all three of the drinks were just sprite with food coloring. Humans trust their sight the most when compared to all other senses. On the first day of class we read about a suffering family with a violent father. Many agreed with the fact that the photographer did not take the photo. When I scroll down my Facebook feed or a news source. I am drawn to the articles with pictures. If that photographer had taken the photo and drawn attention to this community of suffrage, maybe other children could have been saved.

Archiving The Memories

There are many experience throughout life that I wish I would have been able to archive and make a memory out of. Not to say that simply because it was not recorded or photographed that it was not a reality but i can no longer live in that moment when i look at a picture. Archiving these events will benefit later on in life when im old and wrinkly and I want to remember when I moved into my first college dorm or got my first car (two moments that I was not able to photograph).

For my photograph not taken, I described how I wish I could have gotten a video or a picture of me moving in to my dorm because how can I really remember that day and all of its feeling without a photo to look back on. But technically, I have a photo (in my brain) that i can look back on and remember the day and all of its craziness. I can remember the nervousness and the frightening feeling that still seems to come over me when I think about that day. How will I be able to explain these feelings to someone who was not there even if I show them a picture? Is this how archives work?

In Erika Larsen’s “Photograph Not Taken” , the example og the father losing his daughter was not photographed but it did not make it less significant or less real to those who were living through it. This is the same concept with the my memories that were not photographed, although I did not get an archive of them it does not make it less real for me that I’m in college (struggling) and on to my second car. This is not to say that archives are not important as emphasized in Marlene Manoff’s “Theories of the Archive from Across the Disciplines”.

 

 

The Archive: Manipulated

In Erika Larsen’s “Photograph Not Taken”, she shares a story about a time when she was documenting the recent suicide of a local 17-year-old girl. And in that process, there was a moment where the father completely opened up his emotions and the perfect photo presented itself. And there was no shutter click. She could not bring herself to take that photo. She had earlier shared her philosophy pertaining to that photo which is that when taking a photo, that creates a moment not only for the photographer, but also for the person being photographed. These are the moments that determine the make-up of the archive. The photographer must walk the fine line of documenting anything worthy of being seen by others while also respecting privacy in situations where it is required. In this way, their archive is not the full story. There are moments like the one Larsen shared that will never be shared with anybody else. Their archive is not crystal clear, but rather out of focus.

This “out of focus” aspect is touched on in Marlene Manoff’s “Theories of the Archive from Across the Disciplines” in the subheading titled “The Transparency of the Archive”. There are legitimate questions that call into question the accuracy of the various archives throughout history. No matter how it was recorded, the archived piece is from a particular point of view and it “. . . cannot provide transparent access to the events themselves.” (Manoff). You will never get the full picture because the archivist either purposely leaves out information, or their lack of knowledge prevents them from telling the full story. When the British first arrived in the new world, John Smith recorded his experience being saved from execution by the Native American princess Pocahontas. Historians, however, have come to realize that this was most likely a ceremony for him being recognized as a leader of a new Indian tribe, not an execution. Smith’s lack of knowledge of the local tribes inhibited his ability to clearly document what happened. However, for centuries, his inaccurate archival stood as fact. Taking Dennis Wood literally, for decades and at various points, inaccurate maps were archived as fact for many European countries. For a while, the records showed that the world was flat, not round. The records showed that Columbus had found Asia, but the continents of the Americas.

photomanipulation_soldier

The photo above shows how easily an archivist can distort, in this case a photo, anything they want, even written documentation. It is easy to edit the original photo to tell the story of two drastically different events.

Digital media makers nowadays have the even greater responsibility of documenting worthwhile, accurate information. With the internet, as digital media archivist, we have a wide variety of resources to confirm and back up information we publish. We have a responsibility not to mislead. Why, in the information age, do we still have creators still publishing inaccurate information?

 

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.

Pictures Not Pictured

There’s a part of me that wishes I had been able to take a picture when I saw Celtic Woman at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center. I had the cell phone in my hand and the camera ready, and I was close enough to the stage to get a good photo. Unfortunately, I had made the mistake of asking my brother to charge the phone the night before, rather than doing so myself. He hadn’t done as I requested, and when I attempted to take a snapshot, I got a “low battery” notification every time. All around me, audience members were lifting up phones, taking glorious pictures that would no doubt make it to their Facebook or Instagram. I wish I could’ve documented the experience myself as they had.

Of course, there are plenty of pictures of Celtic Woman available to me on stage. But that picture would’ve been my own, my own experience at the concert, my own documentation that I was there, my own souvenir, so to speak, from the occasion. As we read in Erika Larsan’s Photographs Not Taken, “When I take pictures I become as much a part of that moment in time as the person I am photographing.” I’m not sure if that’s necessarily the case in all situations, yet in this case, I think it strangely would’ve been. The picture would’ve not just been a preservation of the concert, but also of me being there, even though I myself wouldn’t have been in the photo.

We live in an era where people are taking and sharing more pictures than ever. Some older people tend to write this off (unfairly) as the younger generation having a vanity issue, but I think it has more to do with it being easier to take and share photos when one has the means to do so readily available. Does this mean when share every picture we take? Of course not, just like how we don’t place every “normal” photograph we take in a photo album. In both cases, though, whether the pictures are digital or “in print,” the outcome remains the same: the pictures not pictured come with the same amount of bittersweet regret.

Ashes to Knowledge, Dust to Revelation

In Season 2, episode 10 “The Library” of Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender, the main characters travel to Wan Shi Tong’s ancient archive—a library that held the history of the world, guarded by spirits of knowledge.  The gang traveled there in the hopes of finding information that would allow them to defeat the Fire Nation, ultimately the “bad guys” of the series.  After searching for hours in the massive underground building, they come across the section of the library that was supposed to contain all information regarding the Fire Nation and firebending in general.  However, all of the information has been burned.  A past Fire Nation militant, General Zhao, had used the library to gather information to defeat the Water Tribe in years past, and had destroyed all information on the Fire Nation as it was invaluable to their enemies.

The factor that raises most questions about the merit and purpose of an archive is the one definite thing it needs in order to be created and maintained—human input.  As Manoff states in her piece, “the writing of history always requires the intervention of a human interpreter.  […] ‘the archive is never ‘raw’ or ‘primary’ “because it was always assembled so as to lead later investigators in a particular direction.”  Not only is there human input in the upkeep of a particular record, but in the original translation of an event into terms that would serve useful to the future population.  There is human interaction at every step of the way, from the original witness, to the encoding of the account, to the storage of the record.  And, as human influence increases in a record, the size of the record increases.  It no longer only maps the events described on paper, but the alterations or use of the archive change its meaning over time.  It is no longer separate from the history it records—it begins to maps a history of its own.

Even though General Zhao destroyed information regarding the Fire Nation in the Library, he left behind an arguably equaling damning piece of information than if someone had been able to find what he had originally incinerated.  The fact that he put in the effort to get rid of information on firebenders told his enemies for sure something that they had previously only speculated about—that there was a way to defeat the Fire Nation, to render them powerless.  So, General Zhao put into motion a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy—his manipulation of the archive led to the creation of another archive, a notion that eventually spurs his enemies to push harder for the information they are now sure is out there.  It’s this convincing discovery of the burned records that causes the main characters to push harder for information, and what eventually leads them to a piece of evidence missed by Zhao in his initial sweep.   It is this information that the gang ends up “transmuting […] into […] the real” as Wood described.  What was information lying in an abandoned library in the middle of the desert would be used to defeat the most powerful nation in their world.  And therefore, across centuries since it had been first documented, the information became a crucial part of reality.

As digital media makers, we must go farther in our understanding of our part in archiving than even Larsen did in her “Photograph Not Taken”.  She talks of her mission to archive events resulting in the actual synthesis of a new event to illustrate the power of the archiver, but the stretch of the archiver’s responsibilities last as long as the survival of the archive.  If what we know is based off of what we have recorded, then the manipulation of such reserves of information would change the knowledge of potentially an entire society.  As digital media makers we must be completely conscious of not only the initial creation of content, but of its upkeep.   A change to an archive, whether it be hundreds of documents burnt to a crisp or just a bit of Photoshop, can change the meaning of the record itself.  Archives continue to alter human knowledge long after the archivers are gone.

The Truth About the Truth

Did you know the world map was often distorted tremendously to make certain countries larger than they appear on Earth? Would you say humans tend to correlate importance with size? Finally, is it difficult to believe our emotions often determine our beliefs despite having concrete evidence that supports beliefs other than our own?

Often times, Africa was depicted to be much smaller than it actually is on world maps, while countries like Greenland and Iceland were exaggerated. This was intentionally done to subconsciously cause people who viewed the world map to associate large sizes with the rank of importance. The larger the country is seen (or anything for that matter), the more importance it has acquired because people will believe there is more capital, more revenue, more people and more need. If many people have been taught that these are the true sizes of these countries, it would be nearly impossible to make people believe otherwise. Truly, how often do we challenge cartographers? This stems from our emotions. As humans, we cannot fathom having a belief for many years only to learn that this belief is definitely false and at this point, we often question if we truly care about something’s validity.

In her wonderfully written essay, “Theories of the Archive from Across the Disciplines,” Marlene Manoff shares the ideas of many brilliant people who discuss the importance  and relevance of items in archives. Particularly, David Greetham, a professor and text  specialist, admits that ““all conservational decisions are contingent, temporary, and culturally self-referential, even self-laudatory: we want to preserve the best of ourselves  for those who follow. (20)” This statement will always stand true. Manoff addresses how historians and archivists are “devoted to redressing the limits of the official record… in an attempt to locate the voices of the silenced. (15)” Purposeful omissions of history in the archive are made to heighten one’s importance and diminish another’s. Again, if this is all we have learned, have seen and been taught, we are more likely to grasp onto the  specific inflations. Though many voices have been silenced in the preservation of archives, this makes the events associated with the silenced no less important than the documented. It should make one question how substantial these voices are since they
were purposely silenced.

In Erika Larsen’s “Photograph Not Taken,” she specifically dedicates the moment to the father who mourns the loss of his daughter and mother while reminiscing. Though she did not capture this moment visually, it made this event no less significant in the father’s life or her own. Without capturing this moment visually, this did not erase the event of the father mourning or the memory that the father mourned for him or Larsen. To Larsen, the moment was best preserved in memory to savor the real feeling.

In my own “Picture Not Taken,” I discuss spilling hell-fire temperature coffee over myself and my car, that I had just bought four months prior. I took off the cap to help the coffee cool faster, however, in the two seconds it should have taken me to carefully place the  cup back in my cup holder, I fell asleep for a split second – long enough to scorch my skin. I worked an overnight shift and the semester was coming to an end and more work than imaginable. I was exhausted. I do not believe a picture could have fully captured how tired I was in that moment. In fact, a picture would have done me an injustice. It is often impossible to capture the full emotion of an event without the events that lead to it. I cannot fathom how one could capture my full exhaustion in just one picture – I needed a photoshoot for that!! But in the same, it made this event no less significant in my life. I will forever have the memory of how difficult this time in my life was. Granted my experience was not on such a grandeur scale, however, the event is not erased in MY history simply because it wasn’t captured visually.

This all correlates with our beliefs. What are we willing to believe although something has been purposely exaggerated, omitted or un-captured? Do we truly believe that one would do these things to assert superiority? A digital media maker has the ability to continue these practices of exaggeration and omission or change how humans teach, learn and think by being inclusive and truthful. Considering how easily and readily available information is to us now, we must modify how and why we archive. We must archive objectively, for the truth from all areas.What we know about the truth is often distorted but we can continue to curtail the gap. The truth about the truth is… we must and we can change the capacity of what future generations know and cling on to be true.