Blanks II, 2012
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Online Catalogue, Daguerreotypes Collection (1840-1860), Brady, Mathew B., ca. 1823-1896
The sources for the Blanks are Mathew Brady daguerreotype portraits found in the Library of Congress online catalogue. The selections were made based on the archivist's notation: "Image Deteriorated Beyond Recognition." The "daguerreotypes" were downloaded as 12 megapixel tif files and reprinted without alteration at Adoramapix.com, where "Priceless Pictures Printed for Less."
The archivist's impulse to preserve (digitize) a daguerreotype portrait that no longer performs its proper function as a portrait fascinates me. Daguerreotype portraits are valued for their capacity to depict their subjects with razor sharp detail and clarity. The online images are precise records of something--the daguerreotype's poor material condition at the time of the scan--and yet they are also perfectly delineated records of the wrong thing, since they no longer have representational value as Brady portraits. Or do they? At the end of his long and illustrious career, Mathew Brady had almost nothing material to show. He was broke, had no studio, and had lost many of his negatives to his creditors. One could say that his career had “deteriorated beyond recognition.”
My other interest is in the digital status and mutability of the daguerreotype itself: the fact that a one-of-a kind, 19th century photographic object can be re-materialized today through a routine, de-skilled consumer process. The Blanks are made through a completely behind-the-screen transaction: from government scanner, to search engine, to download, to upload, to payment, to notification, to receipt in the mail. This new "daguerreotype" has accumulated machine labor but is made with no direct contact between producer (Adorama/me) and consumer (me/Adorama). What kind of portrait does this leave us with?