Reading Archives

With this blog, I am planning to offer, as regularly as possible, critical observations on the scholarly and popular literature analyzing the nature of archives or contributing to our understanding of archives in society. I hope this blog will be of assistance to anyone, especially faculty and graduate students, interested in understanding archives and their importance to society.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Printed Picture

Archives are full of photographic and other visual materials. Richard Benson, The Printed Picture (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2008) will be a welcome addition to archivists’ reference library. Benson states simply that his book is “about pictures and the ways in which they are printed” (p. 2), contending that their form is the dominant way in which we understand pictures. Benson introduces the book by announcing that it “examines how pictures look – by reproducing a lot of them – but carries out that examination by describing the manner in which they were made. To my mind, the making dictated the form and whatever meaning there might be flows from these steps, and from the cultural context in which the picture is viewed” (p. 2).

The book is beautifully and copiously illustrated, and many of the examples are “commonplace” images. Benson describes in detail each printing process – relief printing, intaglio and planographic printing, and so forth – and many of the examples provided are images archivists commonly work with (maps, posters, typewritten documents, daguerreotypes, stereo cards, and carte de visites). There is a lot of interesting information in this volume that archivists will be able to use, with the extra-added bonus of having a book they might want to display in their living rooms.