Online Archives Worth Noting

august sander

I like to collect things. As a teacher of (and also as a life-long student of) photography, I am always looking for articles, essays, interviews about my chosen medium. At one time, rarer pieces were hard to find - maybe in the bottom of a desk drawer in Xerox form, maybe in an old folder of readings I kept from college, acquired from barter and exchange w/ other teachers, or from just hunkering down at the copy machine in a good arts library. I have physical files and virtual folders of all the images and articles I come across that strike me as worth saving, for one reason or another. They contain articles about my favorite photographers, pictures torn from magazines, future (and past) readings for my classes. The internet has changed everything, though, with its encyclopedic, searchable base of knowledge. Long-lost essays form rare, out-of-print catalogs can now be found with a few correct search terms keyed in, such as Tod Papageorge's 1981 "An Essay on Influence" from the Yale Art Gallery catalog comparing the seminal books on America by Walker Evans and Robert Frank, which is currently listed on Alibris for an average of $200. (Sneak peek: you'll find it in the forthcoming Aperture book of that photographer's essays, "Core Curriculum," but more on that another time.)

One of the handful of places online where this essay can be found right now is at American Suburb X, with a curriculum if its own. Since 2008, photographer Doug Rickard has generously provided us all with access to a fast-growing archive of interviews with and essays about and by the great photographers, with "Channels" for each of them easily accessible via a pull-down menu. There are interviews with artists like the now-deceased Larry Sultan, the long-gone Weegee (in audio!), and the so-called "Mexican Weegee" Enrique Metinides, a conversation between Stephen Shore and Gil Blank, essays about Robert Adams and Mark Steinmetz, and curated images by young, emerging photographers like Allison Sexton. There is the text of the important essay by Paul Graham, "The Unreasonable Apple," first presented at a private photographer's forum at MoMA, and also shared on his personal website. It's a photographic cornucopia, a feast of silver halides and pixels. Rickard's other online image archive is called "These Americans," which celebrates the less-sanctioned art of vernacular, documentary and commercial photography in America via the public records of photographic archives in the United States. Image sources include the Library of Congress, FSA and Documerica Archives, local archives, colleges, and even his own personal collection. You can find work by those who crossed and blurred these lines, like Hine, Evans and Weegee as well as anonymous sources and otherwise mostly-unknown working photographers. Of TA's, he says, "A sort of narrative formed via photographs into our nation and its "feeling/vibes/history/culture/nuances/sociology/tragedies/triumphs... a tightly edited narrative to try to maintain strength via strong photographs, so as to avoid much dilution by volume and growth as more are added." The sites are well-organized and give different options or ways in to various topics, so you can browse with or without a solid photo history background.

ASX: www.americansuburbx.com

These Americans: http://www.theseamericans.org/

Core Curriculum: http://www.artbook.com/9781597111720.html

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