The most difficult part of an analysis of a photograph is the realization that it never exists in a contextual vacuum. Chosen subject, technique used and execution of the shot contains a lot of valuable information about the photograph as a material object, but also about the social meaning behind it. Although the focus of an audience automatically goes to the captured image, it is important not only to ponder upon the reason of why this and not other image was chosen by the author, but also to understand in what context its physical copy exists. Hence, one could argue that the most challenging aspect of digitalization of a photograph, especially historical ones, lies in preserving this contextual materiality.
Invented in 1839, photography slowly became more and more present in everyday lives of the society evolving from imperfect novelty, ‘unquestionable’ evidence of things as they are, to a constant presence within the cityscapes. Before easily accessible digital cameras and countless images flooding social media, photographs served as material souvenirs which often added meaning to the events that they commemorated (Drazin 2007), which is an important aspect to take into consideration during digitization process. From the very beginning of this medium, photographs were considered ‘accurate’ reflections of the world and were often used as and evidence – in many aspects of the word. Yet, this seeming objectivity is also used as a platform for constructed remembrance, which can easily be used to create both real and fake memories for display (ibid). Once again, context of an object and its understanding is crucial for any in-depth analysis of a photograph, even if it appears to be initially misleading (i.e. studio portraits with use of painted backdrops).
Social meaning of images and collective memory which can be accessed through them is even more important than the physical object itself (Edwards, 2009). Digitization of historical photographs became widespread and it is by far the most useful way of making the photographs accessible. It is also a way of preventing any further damage to the original object inflicted during handling (Clark 1999). However, it can only preserve the information contained in the original object – which makes it very important to acknowledge the fact that photograph as an object should be scanned from both sides (ibid). Crucial information can be stored at the back of a photograph, such as personal notes, date, geographic location etc. What is more, it can provide insight into whoever was an author of the photograph or an owner of the material copy. Technical analysis of the photographic processes used in creating the physical object serves many purposes – for example dating the photograph and its subject matter, which helps in placing the object within its social context. All of the above helps in re-creating and preserving both the object and its the context.
Clark, S. 1999 “Preservation Advisory Centre: Photographic Material“. Web. 15 October 2016.
Drazin, A., Frohlich, D. 2007 “Good Intentions: Remembering through framing photographs in English homes“. Ethnos, 72:1, 51-76.
Edwards, E. 2009 “Photographs as objects of memory”. In: The Object Reader. Ed. F. Candlin and R. Guins. Pp. 31-40. London: Routledge.