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Into the Archive. On the Materiality of Photographs

On the margins of the archive

Not all photo-objects fit into the pre-existing classification system – whether due to their material properties or their visual contents. Images with only shadows remaining, over-exposures and blurred out-of-focus photos, in which hardly anything can be clearly distinguished, or a slide fixed to a cardboard mount thus completely stripped of its original function, cannot easily be fitted into a fixed classification system. These kinds of photo-objects also include other unexpected photo-objects that have been cut out of something else or otherwise truncated, or that reveal missing parts, or that in terms of iconographic motif cannot be fitted into the classification scheme: for instance a garden in a bundle of architectural photographs or images of clouds in an ethnographic collection. Such apparently marginal objects frequently lead an archival life as ‘outsiders’; they are classified as “curiosa”, “miscellaneous” or “other“. Sometimes these unclassifiable photo-objects end up in separate sections, such as the so called “doubles and various” section in the Photothek of the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence. Here we also find photographs that were seperated from the main holdings as as duplicates in earlier on. From the perspective of classical art history, based on the comparison of images, this was reasonable indeed. From the point of view of photographic materiality, however, there are no duplicates. Each photo-object possesses its own biography, its unique materiality that that are apparent in the inscriptions and traces of use. Perceived as marginal or anomalous, such photographs often escape archival practices such as mounting on cardboards. Numerous annotations thus remain visible on their rear sides, which would otherwise be lost. Thus, seen from an historical viewpoint, it is precisely an archive’s marginal holdings that turn out to be especially revealing – sometimes even more so than the core holdings themselves.


Verso of cutted historical cardboard mount with imprint of two photographs from the USA-holdings, ca. 1910, inv. no. 1913, 610, Sammlung Fotografie, Kunstbibliothek, SMB.

Magnesia, Artemision, a) Capital from the anta, north-eastern part, b) Frieze from the inner cella wall, collodion print on cardboard mount, Carl Humann?, 1891, 30,8 x 24 cm (photo), neg. nr. PM 1460, inv. no. FA-Mag02-0035, Antikensammlung, SMB.

Räuberfest Trebitz [robber celebration], 35 mm film (no manufacturer information), Heinz Julius Niehoff?, undated, detail from roll film no. HNN 02/061, Hahne-Niehoff-Archiv, Institut für Europäische Ethnologie, HU Berlin.

Slide (Vase with coat of arms of the Corsini-Medici, first half 17th century, Italy), on cardboard mount, unidentified photographer, undated, 5 x 5 cm (slide), inv. no. 192313, section applied arts, Photothek, Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – MPI.

Parts from cardboard mounts: Sculpture, 19th century, Paris, Kassel, Washington, unidentified photographer, undated, Sammlung Fotografie, Kunstbibliothek, SMB.

Picture frames, 16th–17th century, Italy, collodion print on cardboard mount, unidentified photographer, ca. 1900?, 11,9 x 9 cm (photo), inv. No.615849, section applied arts, Photothek, Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – MPI.

Cardboard mount with traces of missing photograph, undated, 34 x 23,8 cm (mount), inv. no. 115921, section applied arts, Photothek, Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – MPI.

Bergama [modern village close to ancient Pergamon], albumen print on cardboard mount with teared corner, unidentified photographer, undated, 10,6 x 17,1 cm (photo), inv. no. FA-Perg115a-0001, Antikensammlung SMB.

Boxes from the section ‚applied arts‘ of the photo library, a. o.: Tapestries, Fans, Curiosities, Folk Art, digital photograph, Stefano Fancelli, 2016, Photothek, Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – MPI.

Salem (MA): Frank Cousins‘ Garden, albumen prints on cardboard mount, Frank Cousins?, ca. 1910, above: 17,5 x 24 cm (photo), below: 14,7 x 23,6 cm (photo), inv. no. 1913, 610, Sammlung Fotografie, Kunstbibliothek, SMB.

Marblehead (MA): Colonel Jeremiah Lee Mansion, dining room – museum room with stand-up display, albumen print on cardboard mount, Frank Cousins?, ca. 1910, 16,9 x 23,3 cm (photo), inv. no. 1913, 610, Sammlung Fotografie, Kunstbibliothek, SMB.

Kyffhäuser, 35 mm film (AGFA), Heinz Julius Niehoff?, undated, detail of roll film no. HNN 02/027, Hahne-Niehoff-Archiv, Institut für Europäische Ethnologie, HU Berlin.

Boxes containing ‘doubles’ in the photo library, digital photograph, Stefano Facelli, 2016, Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – MPI.

Chest of drawers, 18th century, with shadow of camera and head, silver gelatin print on cardboard mount, unidentified photographer, ca. 1900?, 17,4 x 16,2 cm (photo), inv. no. 176435, section applied arts, Photothek, Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – MPI.

Chest of drawers, 18th century, with shadow of camera and head, silver gelatin print on cardboard mount stamped ‘sorted out as double’, unidentified photographer, ca. 1900?, 16 x 17,3 cm (photo), inv. no. 176186, section applied arts, Photothek, Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – MPI.

Inscribed verso of a silver gelatin print (Mantelpiece), not mounted, unidentified photographer, ca. 1900? (Galleria Sangiorgi, Rome?), 25 x 20 cm, inv. no. 615905, section applied arts, Photothek, Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – MPI.




© KHI in Florence | 23.10.2021 20:03:05