Every Tuesday, I take MUNI to the Tenderloin and climb three flights of stairs to a small room with a light table, boxes of slides, archival pens, loupes, numerical stamps, and plastic sleeves. This is my volunteer archiving gig while I’m unemployed. I join the other archivists, grab a stack of negatives, take off the rubber band, spray canned air on the negatives, and transfer the information from the enclosed roll marker to the plastic sleeves. I then order the slides by frame number, rewriting the number on the slide holder so it’s easier to see. Often the frame numbers are marred by other information stamped on the holder, or simply mis-stamped. Once the sleeve is full, it goes into a binder. Rinse and repeat.
Sometimes, though, there are no frame numbers so it’s a more investigative process. I have to look at the lighting, the background, the camera axis, the state of of the model’s undress, and then reconstruct the sequence.
I don’t have a steady job right now, but that doesn’t stop me from spending a couple hours of every week shopping for art I can’t afford. I go through the work of artists I like (Rauschenberg, Warhol, Dienes, Rosenquist, Leeson, Smithson…). I discover new artists, like Derek Fordjour and Nancy Holt. It’s not the worst way to spend my time, but I’m also not getting any exercise. I’m not walking into any galleries. I’m doing it on my iPad.
The companies that enable my LCD-window-shopping habit are Artsy and Artspace. They don’t house the art itself, but they aggregate the catalogs of well-known galleries across the world. Each offers a clean, uncluttered interface where you can engage in activities we’re all familiar with by now: follow, favorite, and—if you have a couple thousands of dollars—buy or bid.* Sometimes my credit-card finger gets itchy, but so far I’ve resisted. I like looking at my own virtual gallery when I open up the app. It's like Pinterest, but classy. **
My first thought during the opening seconds of Hollis Frampton’s (nostalgia) was that the audio wasn’t synched correctly. On screen I was seeing a negative of a photographer’s darkroom, but the audio track was describing a different photograph all together, a portrait with a frame and a metronome. As I was preparing to get up and reload my web browser something was happening: the negative was melting, the emulsion was rippling; it was turning dark from the inside out. This drama of slow destruction had distracted me from the problem at hand. By the time the photo was a crinkled, chard mass on a hot plate, we were on to another photo: A frame and a metronome. The audio, however, was describing a different photo altogether.
Such is Frampton’s game, and it continues for another thirty minutes: a succession of photos out of synch with their narratives. In (nostalgia) we are neither living in the present or the past. The narrative disrupts our visual interpretations of the photo, just as much as the photo disrupts our memory of the narrative—on top of it all, the photos are resigned to oblivion, one hotplate session at a time. This was Frampton’s way of dealing with an archive he found somewhat unnecessary (and occasionally embarrassing) as he moved from photography to its sequential progeny of motion picture film.