Jae Emerling – Archives and Time

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At Gary’s recommendation, I have been reading Jae Emerling, particularly on time and archives, as being highly appropriate for my FMP.

Whilst I find Emerling’s style overly heavy on quotes and notes, it is a useful book. A few initial thoughts:

First, the distinction between snapshot and time exposure has always seemed specious to me (pg 171). Technically they are the same thing. What is not the same, however, is the photographer’s intentions  in creating the image. Which in turn will lead to audience reaction (or not).

Second, I like the ‘time regained’ idea (pg 182). I see a distinction in archives between those of the photographer him or herself and third party archives. I was looking at DC-Cam archives today, and been in touch with Roland Neveu to see if I can use his 1975 work on the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge.

My archives are indexical, representational, and autobiographical. Neveu’s are of course not autobiographical to me – but they might help develop my own narrative for an audience. Exploring archives as autobiography or auto ethnology could  be an interesting thread of research.

Third, it’s easy to agree with Emerling on his many ‘time in photographs’ references – except the harking back to Barthes and death, which I always find unnecessary. Photographs do inevitably have a relationship with time.

But I’d submit that, even as I look at my own archives, time is a referent and not a subject, in the sense that what the image contains is more important to me than the time connection.

Fourth, I think his statement about an image of La Madeleine ‘not being useful’ does him a disservice (pg 181). The passage of time can add value to an image in wats not necessarily thought at the moment of capture. One could argue, with a temporal hat on, that all images are useful.

Jackson Pollock said:

The modern artist is working with space and time, and expressing his feelings rather than illustrating’.

For me whilst work has spatial and temporal elements in it, the meaning of the work is more than that. They are like Lego bricks, not the building.

Finally, Gary has been consistently making the point that photography is not a language. I agree.

Saying photography is a language is like saying a dog is an emotion. We can ascribe and receive emotions ‘from’ and ‘to’ dogs, and we can deduce symbols from photographs. But they are in different categories of meaning.

I would say is that we can use photographs as a language to communicate with the audience, even if they are not actually language per se.


EMERLING, Jae. 2012. Photography History and Theory. Abingdon: Routledge.

WRIGHT, William. 1990. Interview with Jackson Pollock. Available at: http://homepages.neiu.edu/~wbsieger/Art201/201Read/201-Pollock.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2eN4EB1f6gw-vUz3zV5CMV0IFPR_tibLh5cWjBTonZf8bDWvaVW4Dqtas  (accessed 30/06/2019).

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