keeping things.

Stephanie Diamond ImagesSomewhere in the pile of stuff in my new apartment (just moved), I have a bright pink box, the word “archive” handwritten in blue on a piece of paper slid into the box’s plastic placeholder. The box’s contents are a mishmash of various stages of my life; notes passed in anthropology class, postcards from traveling friends, high school concert tickets, party invitations, photos of people I don’t know, love letters, and an assortment of scraps from past friendships. On occasion, I’m going to share on this blog some items I’ve saved in this archive box. I bet there are a lot of similar boxes out there, so I’ll also point out individuals doing more interesting things with their personal archives. Have you come across any ingenious uses of personal artifacts?

Stephanie Diamond ImagesKeeping archives not only gives people a sense of personal satisfaction, but can also be a creative inspiration. When my friend Erik introduced me to artist Stephanie Diamond’s Listings Project, I was struck by how her personal and family archive of over 200,000 photographs crept into her artistic work. The photo archive launched a number of creative projects including her It Would Look Like series. In one, Diamond asks young mothers living in the non-profit Project Row Houses in Houston questions about the types of photos they’d like to display in their homes and selected photographs from her archive base on the mother’s answers. The mothers in turn were given photos which closely matched their requests, giving new life to the photographs and gifting visual art to new families.

In Captive Audience she challenged participants to ask themselves, “If I were to go to prison, and I could only bring one photograph with me, it would look like…” She got over 100 responses and spent weeks rummaging in the archive to find photos that matched. When Diamond started incorporating the archive into projects it helped her see the photos in a new light. Diamond’s work encourages me to stop letting my personal archive sit around my apartment for periodic peaking and start experimenting!

Any ideas? How can our archives be the medium for something greater?

For more about Stephanie Diamond read this stellar profile by Jessica Breiman

Photos are borrowed from Stephanie’s website.

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3 thoughts on “keeping things.

  1. Maya says:

    I love this piece. In the past I used to accumulate photographs, letters, sketches and other mementos. When I go through these items I am transported to the past. At times I have confused this for regression, and feared the ‘archive box.’ I love the idea- the challenge- of exploring the role of one’s personal archives as a generative force, inspired by personal history but applied to an audience and a timespan of one’s choosing. Good food for thought…

  2. Kim says:

    I am very impressed and jealous by Stephanie Diamond’s work. She gets to look at her photos in a new light and give them away as unique gifts to new friends that will appreciate them for a long time. Deciding a photograph is worthy of hanging on a wall is a big deal now that everyone has access to a camera and gigabytes of space. I feel most people do not consider what is worthy of being placed in a frame and hung over their couch.

    By the way I honestly believed an archive had to be organized. I thought my giant envelope of saved notes passed in class was just a nostalgic mess.

  3. Natalie says:

    Maya, I think your description of the work trumps mine! I’m so glad you find it interesting too!

    Kim, at least you have all of them in one place, that’s a start. And your thoughts about how ephemeral images are nowadays is one I’ve had too. Thanks so much!

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